Top D.C. lobbying firm quietly hires controversial Trump advisor
Forbes Tate is one of the top ten lobbying firms in D.C., bringing in over $14 million in publicly reported lobbying fees last year. Each month, the firm collects tens of thousands of dollars from A-list clients including Bayer, Walgreens, Verizon, Target, PhRMA, and Bank of America.
Normally, when the firm makes an important new hire, it lets the world know. When Forbes Tate hired Trevor Hanger as a Senior Vice President earlier this month, it was promoted on the Forbes Tate Twitter account, in a press release, and in Politico. When Jerri Ann Henry and Rich Lopez were hired as Senior Vice Presidents in October, they received the same treatment.
On January 5, Forbes Tate internally announced the hiring of Tate Bennett as Senior Vice President. But there was no mention of her hire on Twitter, no press release, and no coverage in Politico. Instead, she was quietly added to a list of employees on the firm website.
Bennett came to Forbes Tate from the White House, where she had served as a Special Assistant to former President Trump since April. While at the White House, she was in charge of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was plagued by inefficiency and mismanagement. Before that, Bennett had a controversial tenure at the EPA which resulted in three United States Senators accusing her of unethical conduct and demanding an Inspector General Investigation.
Bennett's biggest value to the firm may be her status as a former top aide to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). At the time Bennett signed with Forbes Tate, most people believed that McConnell would still be the Majority Leader of the Senate.
Bennett's hiring is a case study of how veterans of the Trump White House are still able to find lucrative positions in the influence industry.
One K Street veteran familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, was outraged at Bennett's hiring. "When you say you value diversity and inclusion, that you value integrity, that you value democracy, and then you turn around and hire a Trump staffer — what you’re really saying is, ‘You can work for the most bigoted administration in modern history, enable corruption, implement ignorant policies, and deny climate change, and we’ll still hire you,’" the source said. "If not values, you’d think K Street would have a keener sense of self-preservation."
While Bennett is not a household name, that doesn't mean she should escape accountability, Jeff Hauser, Director of the Revolving Door Project, told Popular Information. "The natural instinct of official DC will be to constantly slice and dice blame for the Trump years to a tiny handful of individuals," Hauser said. "Doing so would leave thousands of Trump's co-conspirators free and clear of any accountability for their actions to flesh out Trump's vision. That includes D.C.'s new Trump alumni lobbyists and influence brokers."
On January 19 at 7 PM Eastern, Popular Information emailed Jeff Forbes, the co-founder of Forbes Tate, and asked why the firm had not publicized Bennett's hiring. Popular Information gave Forbes a deadline of January 20 at 5 PM Eastern to respond. Forbes never responded. But on January 20 at 4:04 PM the "news" of Bennett's hiring was reported by Politico.
Bennett's "secretive campaign"
While serving as the Deputy Associate Administrator of the EPA, Bennett helped coordinate a "secretive campaign" with the operator of a coal-fired power plant that had allegedly been violating the Clean Air Act since the 1990s, E&E News reported. Bennett arranged meetings between former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and representatives of the Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), which operated the plant. The purpose of the meetings was "to build political support" for the issues around the plant to be "resolved." AECI described the meetings as "confidential" and they were excluded from Pruitt's public schedule. The actions appeared to be an effort to circumvent the EPA's career staff and secure a more favorable resolution for AECI.
Bennett's role "may have violated ethics rules," according to a former White House lawyer who spoke to E&E News in 2019. That's because Bennett is "a former lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association," a group that represents AECI.
Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) accused Bennett of "potentially unethical actions" and demanded an investigation by the EPA Inspector General.
Publicly available facts show that within weeks of starting at EPA, Ms. Bennett participated in undisclosed meetings with her former employer, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), facilitated and participated in substantive conversations between NRECA and EPA regarding issues of interest to NRECA, and facilitated and participated in substantive conversations regarding an electric generation facility in Missouri owned by one of NRECA’s member companies, Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), that is subject to an EPA environmental enforcement action.
It is unclear if the EPA Inspector General conducted an investigation. Bennett remained at the EPA until April 2020.
Trump revokes ethics pledge, allowing Bennett to lobby the EPA
In one of his last actions as president, Trump rescinded Executive Order 13770. That order, signed by Trump on January 27, 2017, prohibited appointees from lobbying the agencies where they worked for five years after their time in government.
I will not, within 5 years after the termination of my employment as an appointee in any executive agency in which I am appointed to serve, engage in lobbying activities with respect to that agency.
The revocation of that order allows Bennett to immediately begin lobbying the EPA. Popular Information asked Forbes Tate if Bennett would take advantage of Trump's action by lobbying the EPA. The firm did not respond.
Bennett joins the Trump White House
According to Bennett's Forbes Tate biography, she "facilitated the implementation of nearly $30 billion in authorized spending for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)." That program, however, was poorly executed.
According to a report in NPR, the program "overpaid and underdelivered." The government paid up to $60 for a box of food that could be purchased at a grocery store for one-third the price. Supposedly, the government was paying high prices "because it wanted those companies to take on the job of distributing the boxes as well." But many "food box contractors refused to do it" and some "didn't even have the refrigerated truck required to do the job."
The administration appeared more concerned with getting political credit than resolving these issues. Each box of food contained a letter from President Trump.
In September, Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) announced "an investigation into reported mismanagement" of the program. “Although Congress allocated billions of dollars to distribute food to Americans in need, I am concerned that the Trump Administration’s management of this critical effort has been marred by questionable contracting practices, a lack of accountability, and a failure to deliver food to many communities that need it most,” Clyburn wrote.
None of this prevented Bennett from securing a six-figure lobbying position after Trump was unsuccessful in reversing the results of the presidential election.