Donald Trump’s Past Lobbying Exploits Paint a Picture of a Deft Washington Insider
Presidential Candidate’s Special Interest Appears to Be His Own Pocketbook, Public Records Show
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump paints himself as a people’s candidate who is a Washington outsider and a successful businessman beyond the reach of lobbyists and special interests. But he now has lobbyists advising his presidential campaign.
Trump also boasts that he will force Mexico to pay for building a wall along the U.S. southern border to keep “illegal immigrants” out of the United States, yet Trump himself has allegedly hired undocumented workers in the past to help build out his real estate empire.
Further bolstering the copious contradictions that already mark Trump’s presidential campaign, Narco News recently discovered congressional lobbying records that illuminate further the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the Republican candidate’s personality and politics. Those records show, for example, that Trump’s company retained a U.S. lobbying firm that was charged with advancing the business interests of a foreign company — seemingly undercutting Trump’s America-first campaign messaging.
The lobbying records date back to 1999-2001, a period when Trump’s casino empire was at its high point, but also showing signs of buckling under an immense debt load that, by 2004, would lead Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Also during that period, 1999-2001, the Trump World Tower in New York City was under construction. For a brief time, it ranked as the tallest all-residential building in the world.
The federal lobbying records obtained by Narco News show The Trump Organization, a privately held conglomerate that serves as the holding company for Trump’s business interests, or the affiliated Trump Hotels & Casinos Resorts, retained a total of four lobbying firms over the three-year period ending in 2001. Three of those lobbying firms, the records show, were primarily hired to address issues related to Trump’s gaming empire, while a fourth was focused on the Trump World Tower, which was then under construction in Midtown Manhattan.
Although the lobbying records are more than a decade-and-a-half old, they do raise some serious questions about the veracity of candidate Trump’s campaign messaging on the issues of immigration and foreign trade, as well as the image he seeks to project as a Washington outsider.
Following is a rundown of the Trump Washington lobbying team from an earlier era, before he began burnishing his image in earnest for his current presidential campaign run.
• Renberg Strategies LLC: The lobbying firm, then headed by Dan Renberg, a former legislative director for now-deceased Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, was retained by The Trump Organization to lobby regulators and the U.S. House of Representatives on “Federal Aviation Administration regulatory issues,” congressional lobbying records show.
Of note in a November 1999 federal disclosure filing by Renberg Strategies is the following statement on the focus of the lobbying effort for Trump: “Daewoo 845 UN Limited Partnership LLC (limited partner) owns 60 percent of client [The Trump Organization] and is a Korean company subsidiary. Issue involved FAA overflight regulations.”
The address of Trump World Tower is 845 United Nations Plaza, and South Korean conglomerate Daewoo, at the time, was a majority owner of that 72-story building project.
It’s not clear from the public records why Renberg Strategies was retained to target FAA regulations, but the FAA does regulate airspace and building heights to assure there are clear takeoff and landing paths for major airports, among other factors. Whatever the reason for the lobbying effort, Dan Renberg, formerly president of Renberg Strategies and now a partner with the law firm of Arent Fox LLP, isn’t talking.
“I am respectfully declining to answer your questions on this subject.,” Renberg says in an email to Narco News. “I am generally pleased to speak with you or other reporters on issues that I am working on, where permissible, but will take a pass on the Trump matter.”
Still, it is clear that Trump and South Korea’s Daewoo both stood to benefit from any lobbying effort underwritten by The Trump Organization, given both had a big stake in Trump World Tower’s success. Consequently, as the lobbying records disclose, it’s fair to say that Trump was in business with and lobbying on behalf of a foreign company, which seems to undercut his recent hardline campaign stance on global trade deals. After all, the profits Daewoo earned from its majority-stake in Trump World Tower went to the South Korean company, not New York City and its workers.
• Dyer Ellis & Joseph P.C.:A February 2000 lobbying-disclosure form filed by this firm shows it was retained by The Trump Organization to lobby on the following issues: “S. 1098/H.R. 2204, Coast Guard Authorization Act, issues relating to Merchant Mariner documents.”
The Coast Guard and merchant mariner credentials seem like strange issues for Trump to zero in on, but at the time his gaming empire did include a riverboat casino in Gary, Indiana. The dockside, 43,000-square-foot floating casino opened in 1996 and was sold to a competing casino company in 2005.
Interestingly, one of the bills referenced in Dyer Ellis’ lobbying-disclosure document, Senate Bill 1089, was introduced in May 1999 and attached as an amendment to another bill that eventually passed the House and Senate but stalled in a conference committee in December 2000.
S. 1089 called for the following:
(Sec. 305) Amends Federal law relating to vessels and seamen to exempt, with regard to those employed as gaming or entertainment personnel, wait staff, or other service personnel ... from a requirement that a vessel employee have a merchant mariner's document. [Emphasis added.]
A merchant mariner document, or MMD, is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to crewmembers of commercial ships and serves as an identification badge, in part. An MMD includes a photo and other personal information about the individual.
“An MMD [merchant mariner document] may be issued [only] to a U.S. citizen or to a foreign national who has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence,” states a U.S. Coast Guard description of the document.
The Coast Guard publication goes on to explain that citizenship status must be documented via a birth certificate, passport, certificate of naturalization or other valid paperwork prior to receiving an MMD.
One of the effects of exempting riverboat gaming employees from the MMD requirement is that a major check on the citizenship status of those employees also would be removed — and this exemption was being sought by The Trump Organization prior to the 911 terrorist attacks, when other citizenship-verification measures were far less robust at the employer level than now exist.
Consequently, passage of S 1089, arguably could have made it much easier for The Trump Organization to hire undocumented workers for riverboat casino jobs, such as cooks, dishwashers and wait staff, with little threat of consequence. Again, such a stance runs counter to Trump’s campaign position of cracking down on undocumented workers.
The public records obtained by Narco News are silent, however, as to Trump’s specific intent with respect to his company’s S. 1089 lobbying efforts. Mark Waldron, a lobbyist who worked on the campaign while with Dyer Ellis, also isn’t willing to discuss the Trump-backed lobbying blitz.
“I don’t have any comment,” says Waldron, who is now a partner with the law firm of Blank Rome. “We do a lot of different things for clients, but don’t comment, because it usually comes back to bite you.”
• Greenberg Traurig LLP:This firm’s January 2000 federal lobbying-disclosure filing indicates only that Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts retained it to lobby on issues related to “legal gambling legislation.”
One of the lobbyists listed on the disclosure form, Ronald L. Platt, however, did show up in a New York Times story earlier this year. The story indicates that Platt worked for Trump “about 15 years ago on a tribal gambling matter” and “said he had been owed thousands of dollars in outstanding bills.” Trump eventually paid Platt the money, the story indicates, but not until he traveled to New York to confront the real estate tycoon.
• IKON Public Affairs: Roger Stone, a long-time adviser to Trump, is listed on an April 2000 lobbying disclosure form as a partner with IKON Public Affairs. The Trump Organization retained IKON at the time to lobby in Washington on the following issues: “National Gaming Impact Study, transportation of gaming devices, federal gaming tax, tax treatment of gaming losses.”
News reports at the time reveal that in the fall of 2000, Trump’s casino company and related parties, including lobbyist Stone, agreed to pay a total of $250,000 in fines and to make a public apology for running afoul of the state of New York’s lobbying commission. Trump and his team allegedly failed to disclose all of their lobbying activities while trying to thwart efforts by competitors to expand gaming in New York — efforts deemed a direct threat to Trump’s three Atlantic City casinos at the time. As part of the settlement, however, Trump did not admit any wrongdoing
So it appears Trump (despite his best efforts to paint himself as a political outsider) has a track record of being a shrewd inside player in Washington — when he deems his business interests threatened by other parties. Most business people in this country don’t have the resources or clout to simply hire high-priced Washington lobbyists whenever their companies want to sidestep regulations or block out competitors. In fact, it’s precisely that kind of insider access and manipulation that Trump now claims he wants to stop if elected president.
Still, given his track record to date, one has to wonder if the special interests Trump really wants to stomp out in Washington are those that don’t line up with his self-interest. That appears to be the playbook he’s used to date in his business dealings, despite his rhetoric to the contrary.
Narco News did attempt to contact the Trump campaign for comment for this story. Hope Hicks, Trump’s press secretary, told Narco News by phone, however, that she was too busy to talk. She also failed to respond to two subsequent email follow-up queries.