Watchdog Questions Lewandowski’s Failure to Register as Lobbyist

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

A lobbying firm set up by Corey Lewandowski, a former top Trump presidential campaign aide, has received about $140,000 in fees since launching earlier this year, but Lewandowski hasn’t registered as a lobbyist, according to filings under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act reviewed by Bloomberg BNA.

The firm, Avenue Strategies, registered under the LDA and listed two other lobbyists, Barry Bennett and Jason Osborne, but not Lewandowski, whose ties to Trump are touted on the firm’s website.

The liberal watchdog group Public Citizen sent a letter May 3 to the Justice Department and congressional officials asking for an investigation of whether Lewandowski violated the lobbying disclosure law or the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a separate disclosure law for advocates representing foreign interests.

The watchdog group cited a Politico news report that another firm connected to Lewandowski, called East West Political Strategies, was soliciting to represent foreign governments before the Trump administration. It wasn’t clear that the firm has signed any foreign clients, however, and thus would be required to register under FARA.

Lewandowski’s lobbying firm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Enforcement Rare Under FARA

The letter calling for an investigation of Lewandowski was sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as House Clerk Karen Haas and Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams. Hass and Adams are in charge of administering the LDA, though any enforcement of lobbying disclosure requirements is up to the Justice Department.

There have been only a handful of enforcement settlements and fines for disclosure violations under the LDA since the lobbying law was passed in the mid-1990s. Enforcement also has been rare under FARA for failure to disclose foreign advocacy activities.

In addition to Lewandowski, Public Citizen also has complained about Carl Icahn, the billionaire adviser to President Donald Trump, and his firm CVR Energy, which haven’t registered under the LDA. The watchdog group said Icahn has used his advisory role with Trump to publicly push for changes in a renewable fuels program that benefited his financial interests, thus requiring lobbying registration.

Public Citizen said in a separate May 3 statement that it hasn’t received a response to its complaint about possible lobbying disclosure violations by Icahn. The watchdog group called for a Justice Department probe of reports that Icahn’s company made $50 million in the first quarter of the year due to his “political interference with a regulatory market for his personal financial gain.”

Lewandowski’s Access to Trump Cited

Public Citizen’s letter regarding Lewandowski acknowledged that the East West Political Consulting firm may not have signed foreign clients yet and thus may not have had to register under FARA. Lewandowski may also have escaped the technical requirements to be listed as a lobbyist under the LDA, said the letter, which was signed by Public Citizen President Robert Weissman, as well as the watchdog group’s legislative specialists, Lisa Gilbert and Craig Holman.

Holman said in a statement, however, that “indications are strong that Corey Lewandowski may well have crossed the threshold for registration under either one of the two lobby disclosure laws.” Holman noted that Lewandowski was a registered lobbyist until 2011 and that he has close ties to Trump and leading administration officials.

Lewandowski’s consulting firms “are using that access as a selling point for soliciting and generating international and domestic business,” Holman said. “And Lewandowski makes full use of that access to this day.”

The Public Citizen letter cited news reports that Lewandowski arranged a meeting between Trump and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. It said Lewandowski reportedly has an “ability to get the President on the phone without going through gatekeepers and is a frequent visitor to the West Wing.”

Payments Reported From Three Clients

The LDA reports filed by Avenue Strategies disclosed payments this year from three clients, including $40,000 from Community Choice Financial Inc. for lobbying the Treasury Department on financial regulations. The firm also reported receiving $50,000 from Arlington, Va.-based Red Horse Corp. for lobbying the Small Business Administration on its status as a disabled-veteran-owned business. Another $50,000 was reported from Flow Health Inc. of San Francisco for lobbying the Department of Veterans Affairs on a health care data project.

The LDA report for Flow Health said the work that Avenue Strategies did for the company ended on March 31.

An LDA registration filed by Avenue Strategies said the firm was signed up in March to work for the government of Puerto Rico on “economic development, housing, tax, debt, transportation and infrastructure [and] legal matters.” The firm hasn’t yet filed an LDA report disclosing payments from Puerto Rico and who it is lobbying.

Citing a report in the Washington Examiner, Public Citizen said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello decided to hire Avenue Strategies because he believed Lewandowski would deliver one-on-one meetings between the governor and Trump administration officials, and possibly even Trump himself. Lewandowski’s firm reportedly did set up meetings with administration officials but hasn’t yet arranged a meeting with Trump.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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