Would-Be Trump Appointees Say ‘No Thanks’ Due to Lobbying Ban

  • Potential staff members cite ethics order in walking away
  • White House says there’s no shortage of candidates for posts

Trump Says He's Begun to Drain the Swamp of Corruption

One sign of how entrenched the revolving door has become in Washington: Experienced people are forsaking chances to fill key posts in President Donald Trump’s administration partly because of his executive order forbidding federal employees from lobbying for five years after leaving government service.

Trump has the authority to fill more than 4,000 jobs in the federal bureaucracy with his appointees. But most of the positions are either empty or filled with holdovers from former President Barack Obama’s administration, hampering Trump’s ability to enact his priorities.

A dozen people inside and outside of the administration said in interviews that they’d either decided against joining the administration because of the lobbying ban or knew people who had. Some of those people were lobbyists who wanted to be able to return to their jobs after serving; others wanted to leave open the possibility of becoming lobbyists.

Read more: Trump’s Ethics Order Seen as Boost for Shadow Lobbying

Among those dissuaded by Trump’s lobbying ban were 10 to 15 members of his presidential transition, according to estimates by two members of that effort, one of whom said he turned down a job in the leadership of a cabinet department. Both of them asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to discuss transition business.

‘Taking My Livelihood’

“That five-year ban is just not something they’re going to put up with,” said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics, a trade group. Miller said he personally knows of “at least 10 people” who decided not to go into government because of the ban. Many of them are thinking, “You’re taking my livelihood away from me,” he said.

Tom Susman, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, said in an email that he knows “a handful of people who are loyal Republicans and would be first-rate, high-level appointees for the administration but could not consider giving up their professional calling to take a government job.”

A White House aide said the administration is committed to finding people who are more focused on changing America instead of planning their next career move. There has been no shortage of candidates, said the aide, who would only speak on condition of anonymity.

As is the case in any administration, prospective Trump employees have also bowed out for other reasons, including discomfort with the president’s policies and politics and anxiety about the Senate confirmation process.

Executive-Branch Ban

But many cite the ethics order Trump signed in January, which includes a five-year ban on lobbying after leaving government service and a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government. The ban applies only to executive-branch agencies; Trump has said he’d like to extend it to Congress, but that would take legislation.

While it’s unclear how strenuously any future administration might enforce the ban, its mere existence is enough to limit a Trump staff member’s employment prospects, according to Ron Jacobs, a partner at Venable LLP, a law firm.

“Having the ban in place means that employers are going to be very careful about who they hire and what they hire them to do,” Jacobs said. “Even if no case is ever brought, the ban accomplishes what it set out to do because employers will be cautious of who they hire.”

Miller, of the lobbying trade group, acknowledged that some people go into government service so they can cash in later, but he said others choose to put their public-sector experience to work lobbying for non-profits. To prevent them from serving is to deprive the government of expertise, he said.

Regardless, Trump himself last month cited a simpler reason for any delay in making all his political appointments: In keeping with his call for lighter government regulations, he told Fox News that he may never fill some of the positions.

“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint,” he said, “because they’re unnecessary to have.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.