Former Lobbyists’ Ethics Waivers Catch Watchdog’s Eye

Former Lobbyists’ Ethics Waivers Catch Watchdog’s Eye

  • February 1, 2022

PPT adds two more officials receiving waivers to Revolving Door Ban to its tracker

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced the addition of two former lobbyists to its Ethics Waiver Tracker. The waivers to the Biden Ethics Pledge, granted by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, will allow each of the former lobbyists to work on agency matters on which they lobbied before joining the Executive Branch.

Ethics laws and the Biden Ethics Pledge generally prohibit political appointees from participating in particular matters on which they lobbied or that involve their former employers. In the cases of these two waivers, however, the appointees’ lobbying work appears to have been considered a qualification for their roles (“a plus” in the words of one journalist) and a reason to grant the waivers rather than the source of potential conflict of interest. The waivers also noted that the lobbying work occurred on behalf of nonprofits, whose former lobbyists are given special deference in the Biden Ethics Pledge. One of the non-profits, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), had net assets of over $220 million in 2020.  

Adena Leibman, selected to be Senior Advisor of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce, was awarded a broad waiver to participate in matters on which she lobbied while at EDF, for whom she served as a lobbyist since June 2020. While many ethics waivers are granted by career ethics officials, the Department’s General Counsel, Leslie B. Kiernan, a political appointee confirmed by the Senate in June, signed off on Ms. Liebman’s. The waiver permits Ms. Leibman to “participate on behalf of the agency in any particular matter on which [she] lobbied for EDF within the two years before [her] appointment, and in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls.”

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted Andrea Delgado, Chief of Staff for the Natural Resources and Environment Mission Area, a similar waiver related to her lobbying activities with the United Farm Workers Federation prior to entering the Executive Branch. The USDA waiver, granted by a career ethics official, cites “serious limitations and inefficiencies in the Department” that would result from managing Ms. Delgado’s recusals without the waiver. Protect the Public’s Trust is currently appealing USDA’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request that sought records involving waivers granted by the agency.

“The American public has a natural skepticism when looking at those traveling through the revolving door between government lobbying and government service,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “That skepticism is heightened when there is reason to believe political actors may be involved or when carveouts or special treatment is given to certain groups. Protect the Public’s Trust will continue to shine the bright light of transparency on these waivers.”