Deputy Energy Secretary Pick Has Lobbying, Capitol Hill Ties

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By Rebecca Kern and Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones

The pick for the No. 2 position at the Energy Department is a Washington insider who previously worked both inside the agency and outside lobbying it on energy issues while at Ford Motor Co. and Washington lobbying firms.

Dan Brouillette, the Trump administration’s choice to be deputy secretary of energy, also donated to Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns while working since 2006 at military insurance and banking provider USAA in San Antonio. He currently oversees the company’s federal lobbying group as the senior vice president and head of public policy.

Former Washington colleagues say Brouillette’s former Capitol Hill ties make him a strong candidate for the deputy secretary role, which is in charge of the Energy Department’s day-to-day management and operations. Meanwhile, groups tracking money in politics say it is difficult to know whether Brouillette’s donations and his work collecting contributions from others for Perry’s campaigns were influential in his selection.

Spencer Abraham, who was energy secretary from 2001 to 2005 in the Bush administration and who worked with Brouillette at DOE, told Bloomberg BNA that he thinks Brouillette’s decade-plus of Capitol Hill experience “will be a large advantage for Perry,” who is coming from the Texas state capital and doesn’t have as many Washington ties.

Abraham, currently chairman and CEO of consulting firm The Abraham Group, said Brouillette would be a good candidate for the role of deputy secretary because “your first thought is someone who can come into the government and manage it well.”

On campaign contributions, Brendan Fischer, a director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group following campaign finance, said, “Given the amount of money that Brouillette has given directly to Perry and otherwise raised for Perry, it’s fair to ask whether he would have been nominated to act as Perry’s deputy if it weren’t for those contributions and fundraising. But then again, he does have experience with DOE.”

Brouillette served in the Energy Department in the Bush administration as an assistant secretary of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs from 2001 to 2003. He also previously worked in Congress for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and for lobbying firms, including FleishmanHillard Inc. His clients at that firm included Entergy Corp., Allegheny Energy Inc. and Peabody Energy Inc., according to OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Brouillette has known Perry—the former Texas governor—for approximately 10 years in Texas, sources told Bloomberg BNA. He donated personally to Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign and gubernatorial campaigns, as well as to the USAA political action committee, which also contributed to Perry’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, according data from the Federal Election Commission, the Texas Ethics Commission and OpenSecrets.org. USAA didn’t respond to requests for an interview with Brouillette.

Brouillette also lobbied the Energy Department and Congress on issues ranging from energy policy legislation and advanced technology vehicle tax incentives when he was a registered lobbyist at Ford Motor Co., according to House lobbying disclosure forms from 2005 and 2006. According to the White House, Brouillette was a vice president at Ford from 2004 to 2006 who led the automaker’s domestic policy teams and served on its North American Operating Committee.

Campaign Donations to Rick Perry

Brouillette and his wife, Adrienne, jointly donated $5,000 to Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, according to data on OpenSecrets.org. Separately, Dan Brouillette earlier donated in 2006 and 2009 nearly $2,000 for Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns.

Brouillette also was a bundler for Perry, a term that refers to someone who collects campaign contributions from other donors. In that role he collected $77,000 for Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.

He also donated almost $49,000 to the USAA-PAC, according to data from the Texas Ethics Commission, which compiles disclosure statements from state officials. USAA-PAC donated $210,000 to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns and donated $64,500 to RickPerry.org toward Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, according to numbers from the National Institute of Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics, said Brouillette’s case was “not really a conflict of interest question so much as possibly a question of qualifications.”

“Brouillette knows the value of maintaining good relationships with politicians—that’s clear from his campaign contributions and from his several spins through the revolving door between government and K Street,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “The question is whether his qualifications to be deputy energy secretary go beyond that.”

Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, told Bloomberg BNA that Perry’s nomination of a lobbyist who donated to his campaigns was troubling as a revolving door issue, but was legal and not uncommon.

“It’s not breaking any laws, but it certainly looks bad,” he said.

The White House referred Bloomberg BNA queries to the Energy Department on whether lobbying and donations posed conflicts of interest. The DOE declined to respond.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member, told Bloomberg BNA they won’t comment on the lobbying and donations now. The White House hasn’t sent a formal nomination for Brouillette to the Senate. Once he is formally nominated, the Senate committee will be responsible for holding a confirmation hearing for him.

Capitol Hill Ties

Brouillette worked as staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2003 to 2004. He was a staff member in the late 1980s and eventually chief of staff in the 1990s for former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2001 to 2004.

Tauzin said Brouillette’s experience working on the Hill and at Ford would be an advantage for him.

“The success of what I think will be a very aggressive Trump energy agenda is going to be very much affected by having someone with his experience with enormous global companies. He knows how to work the Hill, he knows how to help the White House with its policies through the department and on the Hill,” Tauzin told Bloomberg BNA.

While on the committee, Brouillette worked on provisions that eventually made it into the comprehensive Energy Policy Act of 2005, Mark Menezes, a former chief counsel for energy and environment on the committee, who worked with Brouillette, told Bloomberg BNA. The provisions included the DOE loan guarantee program and federal authorization of liquefied natural gas imports and exports, said Menezes, who is currently a vice president at Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co.

Chase Hutto, who worked as senior policy adviser to Abraham, the energy secretary, from 2001 to 2004 and who worked with Brouillette, told Bloomberg BNA, “You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who has the breadth and depth of knowledge on the issues that are facing DOE. And when you combine that with his executive experience, that’s a fantastic choice.” Hutto now is a managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, an independent firm that analyzes energy issues.

Brouillette, who is from Louisiana, was also member of the Louisiana State Energy and Mineral Board from 2013 to 2016. The board administers and issues oil and natural gas leases in the state.

Paul Segura, the chairman of the board, who worked with Brouillette, told Bloomberg BNA, “I believe Dan—being from Louisiana and being on the mineral board—has a very keen knowledge of what our country’s energy needs are and what we need to implement to maintain energy independence.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rKern@bna.com; Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones in Washington at ljones@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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