Sep 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden will allow lobbyists to join transition team

Joe Biden speaks behind a "Build Back Better" sign in Pittsburgh

Biden speaks at a campaign stop at Pittsburgh Union Station Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden's presidential transition office will allow lobbyists to help shape his potential administration, but it will require them to receive a waiver to participate if they registered as lobbyists or engaged in lobbying activity in the last 12 months.

Why it matters: Presidential transition teams are instrumental in establishing a new administration, and the rules that govern them are often a template for the ethics guidelines that the new administration imposes after the inauguration.

  • Some of Biden's longtime allies were divided on whether to let former lobbyists join his transition team.
  • Biden opted for a middle path, stopping short of a blanket ban but requiring written waivers, therefore allowing his potential government to draw on years of expertise that some lobbyists could bring to the table.
  • "We have granted a handful of authorizations, including for individuals with expertise in pandemic response who recently advocated on behalf of their public interest, non-profit employers," a transition official said.
  • "This plan is much less stringent than good government observers were hoping for from the candidate running to fix the mess Trump's incomprehensible corruption has created," said Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project. "This document is discouraging."

With concern about President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and both sides preparing for post-election lawsuits challenging the result of the election, this year's transition planning is taking on new urgency.

  • On Oct. 2, David Marchick at the Center for Presidential Transition will host a conference with five former White House chiefs of staff and others to discuss the challenges associated with a transition.

The big picture: Months before an election, campaigns begin a formal process of staffing transition teams to facilitate a smooth transfer of power after the election.

  • Team members are granted special access to the agencies and departments as they work to set policy and fill some 1,250 high-level positions across the federal government, from Cabinet secretaries to ambassadors to U.S. attorneys.
  • Biden's rules will prevent anyone on the team from lobbying for 12 months after they leave their roles.
  • Team members will also have to pledge not to trade any individual stocks without approval from the general counsel.

The other side: Although Trump announced restrictions on lobbying activity, he has installed a record number of former lobbyists at the highest levels, bringing in a total of 281 lobbyists to his administration at the halfway point, according to an analysis by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations.

  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt were both registered lobbyists on the very issues that they now regulate as Cabinet members.
  • Barack Obama tried to curtail the role of lobbyists in his administration, but he made an immediate exception to his own rules by installing a registered lobbyist for Raytheon, William Lynn III, as his deputy defense secretary.

The bottom line: Lobbyists would be allowed to serve on Biden's transition and potentially his administration, but Biden's team will try to limit their numbers.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from a transition official and new details throughout.

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