On January 28, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order that imposes an extra layer of ethics obligations on presidentially appointed members of the White House and Executive Branch.
Overall, President Trump’s Executive Order takes a somewhat different approach than the “Ethics Pledge” issued by the Obama administration, expanding some restrictions and loosening others. In general, under the Trump Pledge, the restrictions imposed on the revolving door out of the government are stricter, while the restrictions on the way in are more flexible and not as rigorous.
On the way in, President Trump’s Ethics Pledge permits lobbyists to seek and accept jobs at an agency that they have lobbied within the last two years, subject to certain recusal obligations. Other front-end changes include:
- Waivers of the Ethics Pledge are not public, as they were in the Obama administration; and
- Waivers are granted by President Trump himself (or his designee), not by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, as was the case under President Obama.
On the post-employment side, President Trump’s Pledge seeks to plug a loophole in the Obama Pledge that had been widely criticized — that only “lobbying” as defined under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, was prohibited, while behind-the-scenes activity known as “shadow lobbying” was permitted. Other post-employment restrictions include:
- The post-employment revolving door ban applies to more than just lobbying contacts; it also applies to lobbying activities, which includes research, planning, and other behind-the-scenes activities that support lobbying contacts;
- The post-employment revolving door ban has been expanded to prohibit former officials from representing a foreign government or political party, as those terms are used in the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (this ban was also in place under President Bill Clinton);
- Former officials are banned for a period of five years from engaging in lobbying activities related to the former official’s agency; and
- Former officials may not engage in lobbying activities with respect to any covered executive branch official (or non-career Senior Executive Service) in the entire executive branch for the remainder of the administration.
One thing that both Obama’s and Trump’s Ethics Pledges contain is a prohibition on gifts from lobbyists — the Executive Order bars appointees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists and organizations that employ them.
For a full comparison of both ethics pledges, please click here.
What are the practical effects for individuals going into the Administration, and for their former and future employers?
Understand what Happens if a Lobbyist from your Company or Organization goes into the Administration: If a former government relations professional for your organization, or even a hired lobbyist, is appointed to a position in the Trump administration, your company or organization may be affected. For example, if your lobbyist on environmental issues receives an appointment to an EPA post, he or she may be barred from reviewing matters in which you were represented (or even entire issues that he or she lobbied on). Under the Obama administration, this was not an issue because lobbyist were banned from serving in certain capacities. But now, you may need to develop alternate strategies to accommodate the presence of former lobbyists in the administration.
Understand the Scope of the Ban in the Future: Because the five-year post-employment ban applies to behind-the-scenes activities in support of lobbying, the employment prospects for administration officials will be significantly more limited than in the past. The Pledge appears to prevent hiring a former Trump political appointee to serve as a strategic advisor for government affairs, even if that person operates in a manner that does not require registering as a lobbyist. The five-year post-employment ban also appears to bar other types of behind-the-scenes work in support of lobbying, such as research, drafting leave-behind documents, and creating issue scorecards.
Whether your organization has a seasoned government affairs program or is newly considering the opportunities presented by a change in administration, Venable’s Political Law Practice Group can help you navigate gift rules and other ethics issues that arise along the way.