Drain the Swamp: Trump’s Interior Deputy just can’t stop lobbying

  • Published on July 21st, 2017

President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., but it appears that he has instead exchanged the swamp alligators with one horrendous “Creature from the Black Lagoon” after another in his administration.

By Dan Bacher Tom toles drain the swamp sea level rise climate denial

In the latest Trump regime scandal, a prominent watchdog group called on the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia to investigate whether David Bernhardt, President Trump’s controversial nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act by continuing to lobby despite formally withdrawing his registration in November 2016.

Background: Trump picks lobbyist who funnelled cash to big ag as Deputy Sec of Interior. (What could go wrong?)

A complaint by the Campaign for Accountability reveals that emails obtained through a California public records request show  that Bernhardt continued to promote the interests of the politically powerful Westlands Water District after terminating his lobbying registration to run Trump’s Interior transition team.

Who knows the swamp better than the water regulators?

Westlands, the largest water district in the nation, is one of the fiercest opponents  of Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Klamath-Trinity River salmon and steelhead restoration efforts. Westlands diverts water from these river systems through the federal water export pumping facilities to irrigate toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Read the complaint here.

In a statement, Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Mr. Bernhardt appears to have continued with business as usual despite terminating his lobbying registration. Sadly, it appears that Mr. Bernhardt is following a long-standing Trump Administration practice of ignoring ethics rules. The U.S. attorney should immediately investigate Mr. Bernhardt’s conduct and determine whether he violated lobbying disclosure laws.”

“In January, Mr. Bernhardt’s firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, filed a lobbying disclosure report that declared Mr. Bernhardt had terminated his lobbying for Westlands Water District on November 18, 2016, Thereafter, he began heading the Trump administration’s transition team at the Interior Department. Mr. Bernhardt, however, continued to work with Westlands to advance its legislative agenda,” continued Stevens.

On November 28, 2016, Bernhardt sent an e-mail to Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District’s General Manager, and others with his edits on a proposed “draft executive order” for then-President-elect Donald Trump. The Executive Order addressed water issues in California.

In early January, Mr. Bernhardt worked closely with Rep. David Valadao’s congressional office to introduce a new bill, H.R. 23, that would benefit Westlands — and cause dramatic harm to salmon, steelhead and other West Coast fish populations, commercial fishing families, the Winnemem Wintu, Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Karuk and other Tribes, and Delta farming, farmworker and environmental justice communities.

Drain the swamp? Or steal lots of water?

Then in February, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck sent Westlands an invoice regarding federal lobbying expenditures that included $582.09 worth of services itemized for Mr. Bernhardt’s “Westlands Trip” between January 31 and February 2.

Stevens concluded, “Mr. Bernhardt appears to view the Lobbying Disclosure Act as a mere nuisance that can be ignored when it’s convenient. Lobbying disclosure laws exist to give the public confidence that lobbyists are being monitored and held accountable. Given Mr. Bernhardt’s flagrant disregard for transparency, the U.S. Attorney should investigate his actions.”

Click here to download the emails released by the Westlands Water District (.pst files).

The Center for Biological Diversity today joined the Campaign for Accountability in calling for a delay in Bernhardt’s confirmation by the Senate until the allegations can be fully investigated. Currently, the vote on his nomination is scheduled for Monday.

“These disturbing revelations should slam the brakes on this confirmation,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Bernhardt’s close ties to the very industries he’d be charged with regulating at Interior are bad enough. But now that it appears he may have violated federal lobbying law, this appointment should be a sunk ship.”

Bigger and better swamps!

Greenwald emphasized, “Perhaps no person better exemplifies the revolving door between special interests and the Trump administration than Bernhardt. Prior to joining Trump’s team, Bernhardt worked at the law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, where he represented mining, Big Oil and agricultural interests.”

From 2001 and 2009, Bernhardt held several positions within the Department of the Interior, including serving as Solicitor, Interior’s third ranking official and chief legal officer, according to the White House.

Bernhardt has been one of the primary lobbyists for H.R. 23, the “Gaining Responsibility on Water (GROW) Act of 2017,” water legislation authored by Congressman David Valadao that is supported by Westlands and other San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests. The House of Representatives recently approved the newest version of the bill, but faces major hurdles in the Senate, since both California Senators Harris and Feinstein oppose it.

This bill is strongly opposed by the Hoopa Valley Tribe, fishing groups and conservation organizations, since it guts key provisions of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 and the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act,  two landmark federal laws that aim to restore salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fisheries on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

More: Feinstein, Harris, even Jerry Brown hate big agriculture’s awful GROW water bill

(Comic by Tom Toles.)

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.