‘Swamp’ welcomes Trump to town

By Kevin Bogardus | 11/14/2016 01:14 PM EST

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” — the capital’s pervasive influence industry that works the political system for its clients.

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to "drain the swamp" — the capital’s pervasive influence industry that works the political system for its clients.

Yet after Trump’s shocking win last week, that "swamp" of lobbyists and consultants, once wary of the Republican outsider, is now welcoming Trump to Washington, D.C., offering policy advice, joining his transition team and promising support to a candidate who once was considered scandalous even in many GOP circles.

Trump’s win, coupled with Republicans keeping control of both the House and the Senate, could bust through on issues that are key to K Street clients but long lay dormant due to D.C. gridlock, such as tax reform, deregulation and other measures to free up America’s fossil fuels with new drilling and pipeline operations.


"It is good for corporate America. It is good for lobbyists," said Marc Lampkin, managing partner of the D.C. office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. "In the last year, corporations had given up on Washington. Divided government hadn’t delivered much."

Lampkin, a Republican who described himself as an early Trump supporter, said the incoming president and Republican lawmakers will have license to do what they want when it comes to their agenda.

"It bodes well that they are going to look at a lot of issues that impede economic growth," Lampkin said.

Trump’s win upended much of the thinking in the influence industry, as many of its members believed Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, was set for a historic win as the country’s first woman president.

"One could reasonably conclude 95 percent of K Street thought Hillary was going to win. Some are still under their desks sucking their thumbs and in the fetal position. Others are ‘Ah, well, I got that one wrong,’ and are moving on," said Ken Kies, managing director of the Federal Policy Group and another Trump supporter.

There was much infighting among GOP lobbyists over whether to support Trump during the 2016 race. Several are now hoping those battles can be forgotten.

"There have been a lot of [Marco] Rubio and [Jeb] Bush people who had been actively trying to undermine Trump who are now trying to jump in," said one Republican lobbyist.

Kies acknowledged those divisions, noting "on the Republican side, there is a sense of where you were during the election. Some were even rooting against the guy. Those people are suddenly acting like [Trump] is the best thing they ever met."

Trump’s victory has set lobbyists chasing for new connections to the incoming administration.

Former Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), who leads the federal policy team at BakerHostetler, said "people who were well-positioned a week ago are not so well-positioned now. It is a little bit of the world turned upside down."

"It means the folks that have relationships with the president-elect, vice president-elect and the folks who are running the transition team are going to be well-positioned to help their clients to develop those relationships with who is running the administration," Ferguson said.

Despite that initial wariness on K Street, Trump’s operation was able to build inroads to some lobbyists earlier on in the campaign, and those connections have now taken root in his transition team.

Mike McKenna, president of MWR Strategies, is heading up Trump’s transition efforts for the Energy Department, while David Bernhardt, co-chairman of Brownstein Hyatt’s Natural Resources Department, is doing the same for Interior. Mike Catanzaro of CGCN Group also has taken on an energy policy role for the Trump transition team.

Other lobbyists are sprinkled throughout an organization chart for Trump’s transition that has been circulated throughout D.C. and disclosed by The New York Times and other media outlets.

Transition team meetings before the election had been held at BakerHostetler, according to invitations.

K Street’s growing influence in Trump’s transition has brought a backlash from ethics watchdogs, who argue it runs counter to his promises of cleaning up D.C.

"Rather than ‘drain the swamp,’ the Washington establishment is flooding it," said Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, a public interest group.

Nevertheless, Trump needs experts and advisers to fill out his White House and agencies starting in January. Lobbyists have the experience for those jobs, many experts agree.

"The reality sets in that when you get ready to staff up a new administration that you need to have people with experience. A lot of them are here," Kies said.