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Interior Honcho Bernhardt and his former lobbying firm donated almost $1 million to senators

By Andrew Perez as published on

David Bernhardt’s former firm and its employees donated more than $960,000 to current members of the Senate, who will cast the final vote on his confirmation to succeed Ryan Zinke.

President Donald Trump’s selection for U.S. Interior Secretary and his former lobbying firm have donated almost $1 million to senators who will vote on his confirmation since 2013.

A MapLight review of campaign finance data found that Bernhardt, Brownstein Hyatt employees and the firm’s political action committee contributed more than $225,000 to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee between 2013 and 2018. The panel will hold a hearing on his nomination next week.

The firm and its employees also donated more than $960,000 to current members of the Senate, who will cast the final vote on Bernhardt’s confirmation.

Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner, were the top recipients of cash from Brownstein Hyatt, which has a major lobbying presence in Denver. The third-biggest haul went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Bennet voted to confirm Bernhardt as deputy secretary but has announced he will oppose his nomination to lead the agency.

Throughout his time at the Interior Department, Bernhardt has faced criticism for his past law and lobbying work. He has reportedly sought to limit potential conflicts of interest by carrying around a card listing roughly two dozen former clients, which included oil and gas companies like Halliburton and Noble Energy.

The list, however, didn’t stop Bernhardt from allegedly violating an executive order by Trump requiring that administration officials avoid working on any issues that they had lobbied on within the past two years.

Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, recently filed an ethics complaint against Bernhardt, asserting that he had directed Interior Department officials to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for Chinook salmon and delta smelt, despite having pressed for changes to the act as a lobbyist for California’s Westlands Water District.

Last week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called on the Interior Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Bernhardt had violated ethics rules by working on matters affecting the water district.

“As the acting head of a major government agency, it is incumbent upon Mr. Bernhardt to be held to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to avoid any appearance of impropriety, including the perception that he has given his former client an unfair advantage and favorable treatment in the formulation of government policy,” they wrote in a letter. “These concerns are heightened when they involve contentious matters on which he previously lobbied, received financial remuneration and that could result in a controversial outcome.”

This story was produced by MapLight, a nonprofit organization that reveals the influence of money in politics.

8 replies »

  1. The Foundation For Ethical Behavior
    Executive Order 12674
    Thomas Jefferson enunciated the basic principle of public service. “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” This sentiment has been expressed by numerous others, over time becoming the familiar principle “Public service is a public trust.”
    To ensure public confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government, Executive Order 12674 (as amended) forms the framework for the ethical behavior required and expected of all Federal employees. As a condition of public service, you are expected to adhere to these fundamental principles of ethical behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently – very few of the present administration consider the true meaning of PUBLIC SERVICE! Ethics? Something they seem to be have very little knowledge of! And as far as the public trust? Just depressing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Somehow this seems appropriate as Memorial Day was just a few days ago.

    Just a Common Soldier (A Soldier Died Today) by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

    He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
    And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
    Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
    In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

    And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
    All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
    But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
    And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

    He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
    For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
    Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
    And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

    When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
    While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
    Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
    But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

    Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
    A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
    Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
    Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

    A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives
    Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
    While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
    Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

    It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
    That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
    It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
    Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

    Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
    Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
    Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
    His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

    He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
    But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
    For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
    Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

    If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
    Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
    Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
    Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

    © 1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. USFWS whistleblower pressured by Zinke now retired as a result, and speaking out:

    “Steve Spangle, a career employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seemed the unlikeliest whistleblower: During his 15 years supervising Arizona’s ecological services office, which is responsible for protecting the region’s endangered wildlife, migratory birds and habitats, Spangle opposed environmentalists on a host of issues. For example, in 2016 he signed off on a key biological clearance for the Rosemont Mine, a giant, open pit copper project that will disturb more than 5,000 acres of lush Madrean woodlands of oak and mesquite trees near Tucson. …

    But this spring, Spangle, now 65 and retired, spoke out publicly against Fish and Wildlife’s 2017 decision about a long-contested housing development along the San Pedro River — a decision he signed off on.

    In late March, Spangle told the Arizona Daily Star that he changed the project’s requirements under pressure from superiors at the Department of the Interior, then led by Ryan Zinke, and that this case led him to retire early. The department denies pressuring Spangle to change his decision.

    Spangle recently spoke with High Country News about his surprising decision to speak out.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no doubt that this (he changed the project’s requirements under pressure from superiors at the Department of the Interior) happens all the time.

      Liked by 1 person


    President Trump has quietly appointed his Social Security Administration (SSA) inspector general to also oversee a much different agency: the Interior Department. … The appointment of Ennis to Interior was not formally announced by the White House, however, the Interior Department’s website was updated last week to reflect her new position. … at the Interior department she will oversee investigations into Interior’s newly appointed Secretary David Bernhardt’s lobbying ties and two ongoing Justice Department investigations into former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. One of those investigations has reportedly made it to the grand jury. … Ennis replaces former acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, who retired from the office at the end of May. Kendall oversaw multiple ethics investigations into Zinke, including recommending a number of them to the Justice Department for further investigation. Those investigations reportedly played a heavy factor in Zinke’s decision to leave the administration early this year.


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