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Monday, April 2, 2018

Interest Group Notes, Continued Further

Jim Rutenberg and colleagues report at NYT:
In July, David J. Pecker, the chairman of the company that owns The National Enquirer, visited his old friend President Trump at the White House.
The tabloid publisher took along a special guest, Kacy Grine, a French businessman who advises one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men and sometimes acts as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western businesses.
The two men and other Pecker associates chatted with the president in the Oval Office and briefly met with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, Jared Kushner. Before moving on to dinner with the group, the president had a photographer snap pictures of the guests standing with him behind his desk.
Mr. Pecker has long used his media empire to protect Mr. Trump’s image. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Pecker’s company, American Media Inc., suppressed the story of a former Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump.
The night of the dinner, Mr. Pecker got something from Mr. Trump: an unofficial seal of approval from the White House.
The publisher has used the company at times to protect close friends, including Mr. Trump. Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Trump’s lawyer was secretly involved when A.M.I. tried to bury her story about an affair with Mr. Trump. A.M.I. bought the rights to her story during the presidential campaign for $150,000 but never published it. In the world of gossip media, such a maneuver is known as a “catch and kill” operation.
At Politico, Theodoric Meyer profiles Brian Ballard, a lobbyist from Florida who raised money for Trump:
Ballard's relationship with Trump has helped him solve a lucrative puzzle that has frustrated more established players. For all of the president’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric, the new administration has given corporate America and its lobbyists the opportunity to revive dreams of tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and rule changes that were mothballed during the Obama administration. But Trump also presents a challenge for the influence business — a White House in which key positions at least initially were as likely to be staffed by Trump loyalists as by old Washington hands with ties to K Street. Ballard has helped to bridge the gap. He’s a Trump-friendly out-of-towner who can connect with the establishment — he is a close ally of Senator Marco Rubio as well as Charlie Crist, the former centrist Republican governor of Florida who is now a Democratic congressman — and make corporate clients comfortable.
Ballard isn't the only person in Trump’s orbit who decided to try his or her luck in Washington. Campaign veterans from Corey Lewandowski, Trump's fired-but-never-forgotten campaign manager, on down have flocked to “the swamp” to lobby the administration — or, in Lewandowski's case, to offer clients a glimpse into Trump's thought process without actually registering to lobby. But Ballard appears to have landed the biggest fish. He has signed more than 60 clients since setting up shop in Washington after Trump’s inauguration, including blue-chip companies like American Airlines and Sprint. Those clients paid Ballard nearly $10 million last year for help navigating Trump's first year in office. (Those numbers don't include the $3.1 million the firm says it brought in representing foreign clients such as Turkey and the Dominican Republic.)
“He’s the only guy that’s done it,” said Robert Stryk, a lobbyist who runs in the same circles as some former Trump campaign hands and moved to Washington himself after the election. (Stryk's company, SPG, bills itself as a “private diplomacy” firm rather than a traditional lobbying shop.)
Lobbyists at some of Washington’s established firms are quick to praise Ballard, but they also wonder how long his success can last, given the unique nature of the Trump administration. There are risks to building a shop around one principal’s relationships. The now-defunct firms of Ed Gillespie, who was one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists during George W. Bush’s administration, or Tony Podesta, who thrived under Barack Obama, might be regarded as cautionary tales. “Brian is building a strong Washington office, but the question is what happens when the circus leaves town,” one Republican lobbyist with close ties of his own to the administration told me.