Lobbyists steering millions of dollars to President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party have landed federal appointments, serving in the Trump administration while lobbying for the agendas of foreign actors and other special interests.
By collecting political contributions from multiple donors, these lobbyist “bundlers” can deliver more money in one large “bundle” than would otherwise be allowed from a single individual donor under contribution limits.
Trump pledged to ban foreign lobbyists from raising money in U.S. elections during his 2016 presidential bid. But Trump Victory, Trump’s big-dollar joint fundraising committee, and the Republican National Committee raked in more than $21.3 million from foreign agents and lobbyist fundraisers in the 2020 cycle.
The three top lobbyist bundlers raised more than $15.3 million of that, and two of those big lobbyist fundraisers for the RNC and Trump also received what the White House described as “key appointments” in his administration.
Jeff Miller continues to be the top lobbyist bundling the most money for Trump’s joint fundraising committee and the RNC during the 2020 election, raising more than $10.2 million for the operations.
After serving as vice chair of Trump’s inaugural committee, Miller founded the lobbying firm Miller Strategies days after Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
On Dec. 3, the White House announced that Trump is appointing Miller to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Because the position is considered to be a special advisory role, Miller is not subject to the same ethics restrictions as some full-time executive branch employees and will be able to continue his lucrative lobbying work.
Miller Strategies raked in around $8.1 million in 2019 alone and over $9.7 million just through the first three quarters of 2020, a significant surge from $5.2 million in 2018 and $2.1 million in 2017. Miller’s firm is staffed with multiple former White House aides and its clients range from Amazon and Apple to Pfizer and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Another top lobbyist fundraiser for Trump’s joint fundraising committee is Brian Ballard, who steered more than $2.2 million in bundled funds to the operations.
As top political fundraiser for the Trump campaign as chair of Trump Victory and a high-dollar bundler in 2016, Ballard served as a member of Trump’s transition team and vice chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Once Trump took office, Ballard assembled a team of operatives with deep Trump ties and leveraged those ties to quickly build Ballard Partners into a powerhouse lobbying firm.
His firm’s big lobbying clients include domestic lobbying clients from British American Tobacco and private prison company GEO Group to General Motors and Amazon. Ballard has been a foreign agent of Turkey, Qatar, the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and other foreign governments.
As his firm raked in millions with a growing client base of over 100 foreign actors and other special interests, Ballard continued to fundraise big bucks for Trump.
Like Miller, Ballard is also a lobbyist who Trump recently appointed to a special position in his administration. The White House’s Dec. 3 announcement of “key administration post” appointments shows Trump’s intent to appoint Ballard to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
While the position doesn’t exactly give Ballard the nuclear codes, it does give the lobbyist ample opportunity for access in the Trump administration and the multi-year term of the appointment means Ballard also stands to have access to the Biden administration — a potentially enviable position for a Trump-tied lobbyist navigating a post-Trump Washington.
Former executive branch appointees are barred from working as agents of foreign governments or foreign political parties under Trump’s 2017 ethics executive order but its definition of “appointee” only explicitly covers full-time, non-career political appointees.
Ballard’s “special” role in Trump’s government is subject to less stringent ethics rules, allowing him to continue lobbying for special interests and serving as a foreign agent to multiple foreign governments while serving as a federal appointee.
Ballard’s fellow Trump transition team member, Pam Bondi, joined Ballard Partners in 2019 and took on a slate of lobbying clients — including private prison company GEO Group and multiple foreign interests. Bondi soon registered as a foreign agent for Qatar’s government and began lobbying for a Kuwait-based firm whose CEO and vice-chairwoman, Russian businesswoman Marsha Lazareva, was arrested and jailed by Kuwaiti officials for allegedly misusing funds.
Trump appointed Pam Bondi as a member of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in 2017 then in 2019 appointed her to be a “special adviser” to the President in the Office of White House Counsel. Bondi officially ended her role in Ballard Partners’ work for Qatar while she was on Trump’s impeachment defense team but continued working at Ballard’s firm then registered as a foreign agent of the Qatari government again months later in 2020.
On Friday, Dec. 4, Trump bundler David Bossie was appointed to serve on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Business Board along with fellow Trump campaign aide-turned-lobbyist Corey Lewandowski. The Trump campaign distanced itself from Bossie after allegations he used Trump’s name for a political group to scam elderly Republican voters for Bossie’s own financial gain but he was given a new campaign role months later. Bossie bundled $150,000 for Trump’s 2020 joint fundraising committee.
David Tamasi, D.C. chairman of Trump’s 2016 joint fundraising committee, is another lobbyist fundraiser who bundled more than $500,000 for Trump’s campaign and the RNC in 2020. In September, Trump appointed Tamasi to serve at least a 3-year term on the President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Since this role is considered a special advisory position, Tamasi has also continued to serve as a foreign agent for Kosovo and Georgia.
Lobbyist Phil Bryant, former Mississippi governor, also courted a close relationship with Trump’s White House and bundled $30,000 for Trump’s joint fundraising committee in 2020. Trump appointed Bryant to serve on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council alongside top Cabinet officials in 2017.
Other Top Lobbyist Bundlers’ Ties to Trump Allies
Not all of Trump’s big lobbyist bundlers got appointments in the administration but their high-dollar fundraising and close proximity to Trump allies still puts them in a unique position to potentially influence policy that could benefit their clients.
Former Rep. Kent Hance (R-Texas) raised more than $2.9 million for Trump and the RNC, making him one of the top lobbyist bundlers. Hance’s recent lobbying clients include the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Mexican cement firm Cemex and German steel conglomerate ThyssenKrupp.
Texas-based GOP donor Roy Bailey is another lobbyist with deep ties to Trump’s campaign and allies who raised more than $800,000 for Trump Victory. Bailey served as a top fundraising official for Trump’s inauguration then became a top fundraising official for pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. He then became a finance co-chair of Trump’s re-election campaign.
Bailey has not received a formal Trump appointment, but has been a longtime business partner of Rudy Giuliani, helping run Giuliani Partners LLC and serving as a CEO of Giuliani Deason Capital Interests LLC, where the two partnered with Dallas-based billionaire and Republican megadonor Darwin Deason.
Another top lobbyist bundler is Jason Osborne, who raised $720,000 for Trump’s joint fundraising committee and the RNC. After working for Trump’s 2016 campaign, Osborne did not join the administration but instead co-founded lobbying and public relations firm Turnberry Solutions with fellow Trump aide Mike Rubino. Osbourne’s clients have ranged from the Mariana Islands to Deutsche Telekom and the Center for Sportfishing Policy.
Big Trump bundlers are not the only foreign agents and lobbyists to land “special” roles in Trump’s administration, but many still have at least some history of political giving to key players in the federal government.
Former Commerce Department official-turned-lobbyist Eric Branstad is another of Trump’s lobbyist bundlers, raising more than $130,000 reported in 2020 election FEC filings.
Branstad works for Mercury Public Affairs as a registered lobbyist for Spanish design firm Cosentino Group and technology company InterDigital Inc.
While Branstad is not a registered foreign agent, he has come under some scrutiny for allegedly operating as a shadow lobbyist. He traveled to Beijing to meet Chinese government organizations with another Trump-tied foreign agent on Mercury’s team while his father, Terry Branstad, was Trump’s ambassador to China. ZTE cut a deal on sanctions with the Commerce Department, where Eric Branstad previously worked, weeks later.
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