Donald Trump came into office promising to reduce the power of lobbyists and Washington insiders. His victory helped bring a Republican takeover of the federal government. But Trump’s Senate GOP colleagues don’t seem to be echoing his populist message. Instead, they are launching their new election fundraising operation with an event sponsored by a major lobbying firm — one that has represented healthcare companies, energy industry giants and foreign governments, all hoping to shape Senate legislation.
According to an invitation obtained by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, the lawmakers who lead the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) are scheduled to attend a “Kickoff Reception” and fundraiser next week at the Washington offices of the BGR Group — a lobbying powerhouse co-founded by former Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour. The invitation tells attendees that they can donate up to $223,800 of campaign cash at the event, which features Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), NRSC Chair Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Sen. Tom Tillis (NC). A separate invitation indicates that BGR already held a fundraiser last month for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
BGR and the NRSC did not respond to International Business Times requests for comment.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump explicitly criticized politicians’ practice of raising campaign money from lobbyists who represent foreign governments. He pledged to “ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.” And he has already issued an executive order imposing restrictions on such lobbying.
That, though, has not stopped Senate Republicans from raising money from BGR, whose officials have lobbied the Senate on behalf of foreign governments.
For example, federal documents show BGR in 2016 made more than $1.8 million for its work representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Wall Street Journal this week reported that, with the support of congressional Republicans, the Trump administration may stop enforcing Securities and Exchange Commission regulations that were designed to compel mining companies to disclose their efforts to extract “conflict minerals” in the Congo.
BGR also has represented Saudi Arabia, India, Bangladesh and South Korea — all of which are likely to have significant business before the Republican-controlled Senate. Among those legislative matters could be international work visas, arms sales and trade policy.
On the domestic side, BGR’s biggest Senate lobbying clients last year included major pharmaceutical conglomerates such as Celgene, Amgen, Eli Lilly and Merck — as well as the Washington D.C. trade associations of the pharmaceutical and hospital industries. Trump this week met with pharmaceutical executives, and said he wants to reform regulatory laws governing drugmakers. Earlier this month, Sens. McConnell, Gardner, Wicker and Tillis were among the majority of Republican lawmakers who voted down a measure that was designed to let Americans purchase lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada. Drug companies had opposed the measure.
BGR has also long represented Chevron, which could benefit from Republican lawmakers’ efforts to eliminate environmental rules. Chevron gave $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee and company CEO John Watson this week praised the Trump-led push for deregulation — just before Trump issued an executive order pressing government agencies to reduce regulations.
In all, BGR has reported nearly $80 million in lobbying income in the last five years, and company officials together have made more than $2 million worth of campaign contributions to both parties since 2012. BGR’s website promotes the firm’s “senior-level experience in the White House, Congress and the Executive Branch” and promises clients that “whether you seek new legislation, need to modify regulation, or want to put a stop to adverse legislation, we have the skills to achieve results under the most difficult circumstances.”
Last year, a report from the watchdog group MapLight raised questions about whether BGR was adequately disclosing its foreign government lobbying. The report showed that Chairman Ed Rogers was publishing Washington Post columns promoting policies favorable to Saudi Arabia — while the firm’s lobbying for that country was not disclosed in the columns or to federal regulators.
Rogers more recently has published columns about Trump, including one in which he declared that “the Trump administration is going to be all about attacking the problems” facing America.