- Former Lobbyist for Trump Organization Goes National After Trump Election
- With Scant National Experience Previously, Brian Ballard Now Among Top Lobbyists in Country
- Foreign Governments and Clients Using Ballard as Back Door to White House
Best-selling author Peter Schweizer drills down on how former Trump lobbyist Brian Ballard has seen his lobbying business expand exponentially since Donald Trump’s election.
Peter Schweizer: Hi, this is Peter Schweizer, and this is the Drill Down, where we drill down on important information and facts about Washington D.C, cronyism, and corruption. Today we are going to introduce you to a super-lobbyist: a republican who you’ve probably never heard of and see what he’s up to in the swamps of Washington D.C.
When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, one of his promises was to “drain the swamp”, an idea that, I would argue, has, generally, very universal support. Now as a result of the 2016 election, there’s been a lot of scrutiny about certain lobbyists and their foreign ties. People, of course, know about Tony Podesta, they’ve heard of Paul Manafort, and even individuals like Gen. Mike Flynn have been scrutinized for their efforts to lobby, or at least persuade government agencies as it relates to foreign governments. But today you’re going to meet a super-lobbyist you’ve never heard of. His name is Brian Ballard.
With Donald Trump in the Oval Office, we now have a personality-driven administration and what that means is if you are a foreign entity that wants to persuade the US administration, you need access, or at least the appearance of access, to the Oval Office.
In 2016, Ballard was an early supporter of Jeb Bush. When that didn’t pan out, he switched to Marco Rubio. When that didn’t work out, he became a top fundraiser for Donald Trump. He’s now seen as the ultimate Trump insider (1).
Prior to 2017, Brian Ballard really had no lobbying activity outside of the state of Florida (2). But with the inauguration of Donald Trump, he was suddenly catapulted to the national level, where he was able to garner clients from around the world, and some of them are quite dubious.
According to Open Secrets, Ballard gained more than 100 hundred foreign clients and domestic clients between January 2017 and January 2019. Last year, Ballard Partners, his lobbying firm, was one of Washington’s top ten lobbyists by revenue, standing shoulder to shoulder with well-established names in the lobbying game (3).
The curious question is: Why did he see such a rise in the number of lobbying clients? Did he suddenly learn all sorts of things? Did he suddenly gain expertise that he didn’t have before? The answer is no.
To solidify his ties to the Trump administration, he brought in a series of Trump insiders to work for his lobbying firm. Raj Shah, a former White House communications staffer, joined Ballard in January of 2019 (4). Susie Wiles, who ran the Trump campaign in Florida, runs Ballard’s Jacksonville, Florida office (5). Even Pam Bondi, the former Florida Attorney General, joined Ballard Partners. She was an early supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential bid (6).
In addition to employing former Trump insiders, Ballard’s firm now makes big bucks advising foreign clients, many with suspect backgrounds that have been negotiating with the Trump administration. Let me give you a few examples:
Ballard has taken nearly $4 million from the Republic of Turkey as well as Halkbank, a Turkish bank accused of laundering money for Iran (7).
Ballard took over $2 million from the country of Qatar, ostensibly for a yearlong outreach program after Saudi Arabia and the UAE began a blockade against Qatar in 2017 (8).
A Venezuelan millionaire who has been blacklisted by the US Treasury Department, and has been indicted on charges of money laundering for the Maduro regime, paid Ballard hundreds of thousands of dollars, allegedly as part of an attempt to set up an exit strategy for the reviled Venezuelan leader. But Maduro isn’t the only controversial head of state linked to Ballard.
ASM International, a Syrian company whose owner is a close ally of Bashar al Assad hired Ballard’s firm before a public outcry forced Ballard to drop them (9).
Ballard has also found himself taking positions opposed to some of Trump’s chief economic policies, specifically foreign tariffs. Foreign clients are scared of tariffs and want them removed, so they’re paying Ballard big bucks to try to do so.
He represents Kruger, a Canadian paper company whose duties were dropped by the Commerce Department in August 2018 (10).
Three solar panel manufacturers also hired Ballard to lobby on tariff issues (11).
Ballard has also represented Albania’s ruling socialist party (12), as well as the opposition political parties in the Congo and Nigeria (13). Even the government of Zimbabwe has hired Brian Ballard (14).
A spokesman for Ballard recently defended the firm’s practices, saying they represent the US overseas (15). I doubt it. Brian Ballard is being paid by foreign clients. Those foreign clients don’t want him to represent US interests overseas, they want him to represent their interests in Washington D.C., and he’s using his alleged access to cash in big time.
The US Constitution guarantees American citizens the opportunity to petition their government. We are allowed to lobby. The question is, should that or does that actually extend to foreign governments, foreign political parties, or foreign corporations. I rather think it should not.
STATEMENT TODAY FROM RAJ SHAH OF BALLARD PARTNERS:
“For over three decades, Ballard Partners has represented hundreds of clients and built a well-deserved reputation for quality service and results.
In the case of ASM International, upon learning of its activities, unrelated to the firm’s representation, the firm immediately terminated its contract. More telling of Ballard Partners’ work on Syria is our representation of Citizens for a Secure and Safe America, whose objective is to promote America’s national security interests through advocating for a free and democratic Syria.
As it has for over thirty years, Ballard Partners will continue to provide clients with high-quality government relations and public affairs counsel and maintain strict adherence to legal and ethical principles that have earned the firm a stellar reputation.”
- Benjy Sarlin, “Jeb Bush Fundraiser Brian Ballard Defects Over Rubio Attacks,” NBC News, November 6, 2015, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/jeb-bush-fundraiser-brian-ballard-defects-over-rubio-attacks-n458366; “Brian Ballard,” Politico, accessed June 10, 2019, https://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/politico-power-list/brian-ballard/.
- Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, “Ballard Partners Going National, Opens D.C. Office,” Florida Politics, January 31, 2017, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/231324-ballard-partners-going-national-opens-d-c-office.
- Opensecrets.org, “Top Lobbying Firms: 2018,” accessed June 10, 2019, https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?showYear=2018&indexType=l .
- Matthew Choi, “White House Spokesman Raj Shah Will Join Lobbying Firm,” Politico, January 14, 2019, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/14/raj-shah-white-house-lobbying-ballard-partners-1098885.
- Theodoric Meyer, “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington,” Politico, April 2, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/14/raj-shah-white-house-lobbying-ballard-partners-1098885.
- Associated Press, “Trump Would ‘Love’ for Outgoing Fla. AG Pam Bondi to Join Administration,” NBC Miami, November 17, 2018, https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Trump-Would-Love-for-Outgoing-Fla-AG-Pam-Bondi-to-Join-Administration-500757772.html; Marc Caputo, “Bondi: ‘I Don’t Think It’s Me’ on Secret Trump Tape,” Politico, July 25, 2018, https://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2018/07/25/bondi-i-dont-think-its-me-on-secret-trump-tape-529368; John Wagner, “Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins D.C. Lobbying Firm with Ties to Trump,” Washington Post, January 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/former-florida-attorney-general-pam-bondi-joins-dc-lobbying-firm-with-ties-to-trump/2019/01/22/49bd9e2e-1e5a-11e9-8e21-59a09ff1e2a1_story.html?utm_term=.c9fbe69d1036.
- Anna Massoglia and Karl Evers-Hillstrom, “Revolving Door Brings Trump-tied Lobbying Firm Even Closer to the White House,” Opensecrets.org, January 22, 2019, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/01/ballard-partners-revolving-door-white-house/.
- Peter Schorsch, “Qatar Taps Ballard Partners for $2.1 Million Push Ahead of Emir’s Visit,” Florida Politics, April 10, 2018, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/260868-qatar-taps-ballard-partners-for-2-1-million-push-ahead-of-emirs-visit.
- Adam Rawnsley and Betsy Woodruff, “Top Trump Fundraiser Caught Working for Assad Ally,” Daily Beast, last updated October 28, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/top-trump-fundraiser-caught-working-for-assad-ally.
- Ian Bickis, “U.S. Trade Commission Kills Duties Placed on Canadian Newsprint,” Global News (via Canadian Press), August 29, 2018, https://globalnews.ca/news/4416179/newsprint-tariffs-overturned/.
- Betsy Woodruff and Lachlan Markay, “Trump’s Turbulent Tariff Policy Has Been Nirvana for K Street,” Daily Beast, May 2, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/trumps-turbulent-tariff-policy-has-been-nirvana-for-k-street; “Lobbying for REC Americas, LLC: Solar Panel Trade Policy & Tariffs,” accessed June 10, 2019, https://projects.propublica.org/represent/lobbying/301016687; “Lobbying for Vivint, Solar, Inc.: Tariff Policy Regarding Solar Panels,” accessed June 10, 2019, https://projects.propublica.org/represent/lobbying/r/300927678; “Lobbying for Sunrun, Inc.: Tariff Policy Regarding Solar Panels,” accessed June 10, 2019, https://projects.propublica.org/represent/lobbying/r/300927681.
- “Ballard Partners Latest Federal Signing: The Ruling Party of Albania,” Florida Partners, April 18, 2017, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/236352-ballard-partners-latest-federal-signing-ruling-party-albania.
- Theodoric Meyer, “Ballard Signs Zimbabwe,” Politico, March 6, 2019, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/politico-influence/2019/03/06/ballard-signs-zimbabwe-404638.
- Dionne Searcey, “Political Handlers with Trump Ties Take Their Election Playbooks to Africa,” New York Times, March 31, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/31/world/africa/africa-trump-manafort-political-consultants.html.