A major donor to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was granted a direct audience with the White House to discuss overhauling the tax code. And in a rare bit of candor, he not only admitted it but put out a press release trumpeting the meeting.
Julio Gonzalez, chairman and chief executive of Engineered Tax Services, which is described as “the largest specialty tax firm in the United States,” met this month with top administration officials, including a senior policy adviser to Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief economist, and the official U.S. Treasurer.
The White House does to appear to have publicly revealed the meeting, though it does appear that it took place at the White House itself (the meeting was described as a “White House roundtable”). Nor did the White House return a request for comment about it.
The revelation that it took place came in the form of a press release, in which Gonzalez said that the Gonzalez Family Office, a private entity that, according to its website, “serves the Gonzalez Family interests,” hosted a roundtable along with The Hispanic 100, a group of top Latina leaders.
According to that press release, attendees included Jennifer Korn, the Republican National Committee’s deputy political director; Andrew Koenig, a policy special assistant at the White House; Jovita Carranza, the Treasurer of the United States; and Mark Calabria, chief economist to Pence. The press release also gave a surface-level readout of what was discussed, including that administration officials detailed deductions they wanted to eliminate in order to offset a reduction in personal and corporate tax rates.
Gonzalez is a member of the Hispanic CEO Roundtable and part of the administration’s task force on Hispanic affairs. He’s an active player in political circles despite being based in West Palm Beach.
His company also has interest in the tax-overhaul debate playing out in Congress and he himself has opened up his checkbook for key players in that fight. Engineered Tax Services gave $25,000 to Trump’s inaugural. Gonzalez himself gave $2,500 to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is leading the tax overhaul effort. That donation took place in April. A week later, Gonzalez gave another $2,500 to Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and his wife, the vice president of Engineered Tax Services, gave the same amount to Stivers that same day.
Gonzalez’s press representative deferred requests for comment to Gonzalez himself, who subsequently did not return multiple emails.
Gonzalez is hardly the first donor to have gained access to the top rungs of government. The Obama presidential campaign was caught advising the Obama White House on how to give big-time donors a sense of access during their White House visits.
Trump, however, promised to be immune from granting access to donors—because he was so rich he didn’t need them. Beyond that, government ethicists say it is uncommon for a private family office to host a White House event, and problematic for someone with direct interests before the government to be doing so. They did, however, find it oddly refreshing that Gonzalez issued a press release about it.
“I’ve never seen it as a press release before. Usually when they brag about it, they do it in a small circle of business associates and clients who they are trying to impress. It is odd to issue a press release. Sometimes they will put out a photo from their meeting,” said Larry Noble, senior director of ethics and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. “I would actually like to see them all put out press releases where they describe what was discussed. Maybe this should be the new standard.”
With reporting by Lachlan Markay