POLITICS

03.30.16 5:00 AM ET

Donald Trump’s Campaign Is Run by a Lobbyist

On the stump, The Donald rails against the D.C. puppet-masters. But look at who’s pulling Trump’s strings.

Donald Trump has stood by his man, Corey Lewandowski, in ways large and small since the day Trump launched his scorched-earth campaign for president in July with Lewandowski at the helm.

On Tuesday, Trump Tweeted his support for Lewandowski after the aide turned himself in to Jupiter, Florida, police on battery charges stemming from an incident when he grabbed a female reporter after a Trump press conference. In March, Trump literally stood next to Lewandowski at victory speech days after the incident, telling Lewandowski, “Good job, Corey.”

And Trump has never flinched from retaining Lewandowski to run his campaign, which Trump paints as a grassroots movement against lobbyists and special interests. That’s despite the fact that Lewandowski himself worked as federal lobbyist for special interests for nearly 10 years before joining the Trump campaign.

As he began to outline his run for president in the summer of 2015, Trump blamed the bought-and-paid for politicians at the top of the food chain, including his opponents, for the corruption and dysfunction in Washington. “The lobbyists have—they totally control these politicians,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I see Bush with the lobbyists. And he’s sitting there with all of these people. They’re totally telling them what to do, like a little puppet. And the same with Hillary, and the same with everybody else.”

Everybody else, in this case, includes Trump, whose campaign manager was also a lobbyist. The list of companies and corporations that Lewandowski shilled for on Capitol Hill from 2004 to 2012 includes a solar company partially owned by Taiwanese investors, a medical device company that landed in hot water over a controversial implant used for depression, a security company founded after 9/11, and a large biopharmaceutical firm, all looking to Congress and the federal government for millions of dollars and hoping to get it through Lewandowski’s connections on Capitol Hill. Lewandowski also worked as chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney for three years; later, Ney pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in 2006 as a part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.    

After working as the head of a seafood association for a year and a half, Lewandowski worked for eight years as a federally registered lobbyist for Schwartz Communications, a Boston-based lobbying and public relations firm. (It’s since been bought out by Publicis Groupe, the French public affairs giant.)

During that time with Schwartz Communications, Lewandowski lobbied the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the House and Senate, for six companies, including Borrego Solar Systems, a California company that designs and installs solar-powered facilities for cities, universities, and large commercial properties. A Taipei-based manufacturer, Walsin Lihwa, owned 30 percent of Borrego, according to House and Senate disclosure records filed by Lewandowski. In 2009, Borrego paid Lewindowski’s firm $30,000 to lobby Congress for appropriations through President Obama’s much-maligned federal stimulus bill, which included significant funding for so-called “green energy.” The next year, in 2010, a Borrego solar project in Sutton, Massachusetts, received $150,000 in stimulus money to start the town’s solar program.

Before Borrego, Lewandowski lobbied for Cyberonics Inc., a medical device company that paid Lewandowski’s firm more than $84,000 from 2006 to 2007 to secure approval from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for a controversial implant.  The Food and Drug Administration initially approved the device to treat epilepsy, but in in 2006, a Senate Finance Committee investigation found that the FDA administrator had expanded the Cyberonics device for use in depression in 2005 over the unanimous objections from staff scientists.  In 2007, even after Lewandowski’s lobbying, the federal government rejected Cyberonics’ request for reimbursement approval, explaining that the device was “not reasonable and necessary” for treating depression.   

Lewandowski’s work hunting stimulus dollars night bother the GOP base, but it won’t bother Trump, who praised the stimulus in an interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, who had asked Trump if cutting taxes would be an easier way to stimulate the then-tanking economy. “Well, I think taxes are very good. I think it goes quickly. It is easily done, and etc., etc.,” Trump said. “But building infrastructure, building great projects, putting people to work in that sense is also very good, so I think you have a combination of both plus he is doing a rebate system and I think that is good also.”

The other companies on Lewandowski’s client list included long-term client Passport Systems, a homeland security company with a specialty in security screening and detecting radiation, DOR BioPharma, a pharmaceutical firm awarded millions of dollars by the federal government for its work on vaccines for bio-toxins like ricin and anthrax, and Pavillion Technologies, an R&D company that won multiple grants from the Department of Energy for its research in development.   

(Neither Lewandowski nor several of his former co-workers at Schwartz responded to requests for comment about his time there.)

Lewandowski isn’t the first lobbyist associated with Trump’s campaign and he certainly won’t be the last. The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi reported in 2015 that the two principal founders of the pro-Trump Super PAC, Make America Great Again PAC, were both lobbyists.  

None of Lewandowski’s work was ever singled out as being improper, but his years lobbying on behalf of wealthy corporations pitching the federal government for business, grants, and cash flies in the face of Trump’s anti-lobbyist shtick. Trump may accuse Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz of being controlled by lobbyists, but Trump’s campaign has been run by a D.C. lobbyist since Day One.