Washington lobbyists with close ties to outgoing President Donald Trump were paid lucrative sums by clients angling for last-minute pardons from the president.
Matthew Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a close Trump ally, brought in the largest haul. According to a lobbying filing released Thursday night, Schlapp was paid a whopping $750,000 since mid-December to lobby Trump to pardon Parker Petit, a top Republican donor who served as Georgia finance chairman for Trump’s 2016 campaign. Petit was convicted of securities fraud in November and faced up to 20 years in federal prison.
Trump ultimately didn’t pardon Petit, but the venture was lucrative for Schlapp. His lobbying firm, Cove Strategies, brought in over $2.3 million in 2020, an all-time high boosted by Petit’s six-figure payment. Schlapp is a frequent guest on some of Trump’s favorite Fox News programs, and his wife Mercedes Schlapp worked for the White House and Trump’s 2020 campaign. Last month, Trump appointed Schlapp to the trust fund board for the Library of Congress, making him one of many Trump-connected lobbyists to land government appointments from Trump while continuing to lobby.
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Mark Cowan, a member of Trump’s transition team, unsuccessfully lobbied Trump to grant clemency to Nickie Davis, who in August admitted she failed to disclose lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of a fugitive Malaysian financier. Davis hired Cowan in November and paid him a total of $100,000 to lobby Trump, according to a recent lobbying filing. Trump ultimately pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser who was the mastermind behind the covert foreign influence operation, but didn’t pardon Davis.
Former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman was more successful. The White House credited Tolman with securing clemency or pardons for four individuals. In the final months of Trump’s presidency, Tolman brought in at least $75,000 from clients to lobby Trump.
These lobbying efforts are disclosed in lobbying reports filed with Congress. However, The New York Times reported that other former Trump officials were paid big money to lobby for pardons but didn’t report their lobbying contracts. Former Trump legal adviser John Dowd was among those who attracted clients. Dowd successfully secured a pardon for Las Vegas gambler William Walters, who was sentenced to prison in 2017 on insider trading charges.
Trump granted clemency to 143 individuals, including several well-connected political donors. Many of those pardoned by Trump had been convicted of committing crimes while holding public office.
Lobbyists with close ties to Trump flourished during his time in office. Ballard Partners, launched by former Trump Victory chairman Brian Ballard in 2017, ranked among the highest paid lobbying firms last year. Ballard lobbied for more clients than anyone else, representing corporate giants like Amazon, Boeing and General Motors. Another firm run by a top Trump fundraiser, Miller Strategies, raked in record revenue in 2020.
Trump campaigned on the promise that he would rid Washington of political corruption and “drain the swamp.” In one of his final acts as president, he revoked an executive order that had barred his administration officials from becoming lobbyists, an ethics plan that was rarely enforced to begin with.