It’s no secret that political consultants often cash in big time, signing on with corporations, ideological groups, even foreign candidates and governments.
Whether they’re selling their talents, their connections or their access to those in power, it’s been a lucrative field for a long time, with the Beltway at its epicenter.
I routinely bump into former campaign strategists, Democrats and Republicans, who are about to get on a plane to visit clients around the country and around the globe. Whether you view this as seamy or just people earning a living, influence-peddling is a bipartisan game.
And yet the press is suddenly in a tizzy that this is happening with Trump associates, as if they are creating a whole new industry.
“Some of President Donald Trump’s former campaign hands are rushing to sign lucrative deals with foreign clients, shrugging off their own pledges to avoid foreign lobbying and the president’s vow to ‘drain the swamp,’” Politico says.
“Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, whose partner, Barry Bennett, had said last year that their new firm wouldn’t lobby for foreign nations, is among those searching for foreign gold. Lewandowski and Bennett are actively seeking to represent foreign governments and consult on overseas elections, and members of the firm have met in recent weeks with officials from Albania and Kosovo.”
So? Lewandowski and Bennett never worked in the administration. If they had, they’d be bound by Trump requiring top officials to sign a five-year pledge not to lobby the government. And plenty of ex-Obama strategists and ex-Clinton strategists have worked in foreign elections.
The New York Times finds it newsworthy that some Trump officials previously made money working for conservative groups and PACs:
“Donald F. McGahn II, now President Trump’s White House counsel, made $2.4 million as a lawyer with a client list loaded with deep-pocketed conservative groups, from Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, to the Citizens United Foundation.
“Mr. Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, earned $78,000 from Freedom Partners, a Koch-linked group where he once served as president, plus nearly $380,000 for consulting work, listing clients such as the Club for Growth and Susan B. Anthony List, both right-leaning activist groups, as well as the presidential campaign of Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.
“And Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, reported earning more than $1 million in income tied to conservative-oriented work, with at least $500,000 of that from entities linked to the conservative megadonor Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, including the Breitbart News Network and Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm partly owned by Mr. Mercer that worked for the Trump campaign.”
These disclosures “offer a hint of how an explosion in spending has expanded the lucrative array of private political work in Washington, enriching even the anti-establishment activists and operatives who sided with Mr. Trump.”
Only later comes the obligatory both-sides-do-it paragraph:
“To be sure, Democrats take care of their own, as well. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his senior adviser, David Axelrod, reported an income of more than $1 million, listing consulting services for Democratic candidates and other political clients."
In fact, Axelrod's firm worked in a Nigerian election, and former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina beat Axelrod in the 2015 British race won by David Cameron.
Hillary Clinton loyalist David Brock, meanwhile, drew income not only from his own group, Media Matters, but from the pro-Hillary organizations Correct the Record and American Bridge as well.
It’s hardly shocking that people with conservative or liberal views want to hire those who will fight for those views and know how to work the system.
Washington is full of folks who came to do good and stayed to do well. And of course some foreign interests want a piece of that action as well.
The only thing that’s surprising are stories implying that Trump loyalists are somehow breaking new ground here.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.