The ethics experts, including lawyers who worked in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, met in late October with Bill Palatucci, who was then the transition team’s general counsel, and there were several follow up conversations until recent days, according to a person familiar with the discussions. But Palatucci is no longer serving in an official role on the transition after the staff turnover that occurred when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was replaced last week as head of the transition by vice president-elect Mike Pence. Palatucci is a Christie ally.
It is now unclear what level of interest the transition has in considering the draft proposal. A Trump spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
Trump campaigned on a promise to crack down on the influence of special interests in Washington and proposed toughening restrictions on lobbyists.
“I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear our words, our words when we say — you know what we’re going to say? We’re going to win today and we’re going to Washington, D.C. to drain the swamp,” Trump said during an Election Day rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Buoyed by such promises, the ethics experts sought meetings with both the Trump and Clinton transition teams to urge them to toughen the current limits on lobbyists.
“If Donald Trump is serious about closing the loopholes that allow unregistered lobbyists to have undue influence, he can do that with one stroke of the pen with this executive order,” said Norm Eisen, the former Obama White House “ethics czar” who helped draft the proposed executive order along with Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer who worked in the George W. Bush administration, and several people working for good government groups, such as the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and Public Citizen.
After receiving the draft order, Trump transition leaders asked several detailed follow-up questions that signaled they had a strong level of interest in evaluating the proposal and how it would work, according to the person with knowledge of the discussions.
Palatucci declined to comment on how seriously the proposal was being considered.
The proposed order goes beyond Obama’s lobbyist restrictions, which bar people who have been registered lobbyists in the previous two years from working in the executive branch on areas they had previously lobbied on.
The order presented to the Trump team, according to a draft of the document obtained by The Washington Post, would extend the restrictions to not just lobbyists, but anyone who works to affect public policy for private gain, including public relations consultants.
In doing so, the draft order takes aim at “shadow” or unregistered lobbyists — people who work to influence legislation and policy but who do not register as lobbyists because of a loophole in the law that allows them to escape this designation if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying for a single client. This has led many people in the influence industry to call themselves policy advisers or consultants instead of lobbyists.
The draft order would execute what Trump himself proposed last month when he introduced an ethics reform plan that includes closing this loophole.
“I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants, advisers, all these different things,” Trump said in a speech in Wisconsin in October.