Trump-Tied Florida Lobbying Firm Made $5.2 Million Windfall Since the Election

Trump-Tied Florida Lobbying Firm Made $5.2 Million Windfall Since the Election
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Ballard Partners is a powerhouse lobbying firm in Tallahassee, Miami, and other major Florida cities. Before this year, the firm had never lobbied anyone at the federal level, but Ballard did have one important client: It was the Trump Organization's go-to lobbying wing when it needed to make deals in Florida. After Donald Trump's election, the firm swiftly opened New York and D.C. offices.

Since then, the group's bottom line has soared: A report released yesterday by the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen (founded by Ralph Nader in 1971) says Ballard has made $5.2 million on the federal lobbying circuit in 2017, plus millions from the repressive Turkish Erdogan regime. The firm's owner, Brian Ballard, was also Mitt Romney's campaign-finance chairman in 2012 and ran the Trump Victory Fund in Florida last year. According to the money-in-politics tracking site MapLight, Ballard donated $100,000 to Trump's joint Republican Party fundraising account last year.

Another Ballard Partners lobbyist, Dan McFaul, was a member of the Trump transition team and helped vet intelligence, Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs nominees. Public Citizen said that of all the lobbyists on the Trump transition team, McFaul has made the most money so far this year.

Brian Ballard has been transparent about the fact that his Trump ties have helped him make a river of cash.

“I would imagine if Hillary Clinton were elected, I wouldn’t be here,” Ballard told the Tampa Bay Times in June.

Normally, this would be the point where a stuffy daily newspaper mentions that during his presidential campaign, Trump promised to "drain the swamp," kick out lecherous lobbyists and middlemen gunking up democracy, and ensure that people like Ballard stop making gazillions of dollars from D.C. cretins. But mentioning all of that stuff is useless: Trump's campaign was always a moneymaking grift, and to pretend otherwise is dumb. Ballard's self-admitted success is just another bit of proof.

When the Center for Public Integrity asked Ballard whether he thinks he's selling access to the president, he said things were much more complicated than that.

“There's a lot of blurred lines, you know,” Ballard told the center. “It's easy to say, ‘Oh, you are Trump’s person — you get this and that,’ but I don't think it works out that way.”

According to Public Citizen, Ballard Partners has seemingly been taking millions from every corporate leech, American oligarch, and literal dictator who asks for the firm's help. Most notable, Ballard Partners scored a $1.5 million lobbying contract on behalf of Turkey's increasingly repressive President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's infamous for suspending democracy, arresting journalists, and torturing detainees, according to Amnesty International — plus allowing his security guards to pummel peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. Ballard Partners also snagged a contract this year with the state-owned Turkish bank Halkbank, which was accused of illegally funneling money to Iran and laundering funds earlier this year.

(In addition to lobbying for the Turks, Ballard Partners also represents the Dominican Republic and Socialist Party of Albania in Washington. Public Citizen estimates those three countries have paid the firm $1.1 million so far this year.)

But the firm also has some extremely shady clients in the States too. Ballard Partners lobbies on behalf of Florida's massive private prison company, the Boca Raton-based GEO Group. One of the largest campaign donors in Florida, GEO operates scores of state and federal prisons, as well as detention centers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union said guards at a GEO facility in Colorado were torturing Iraqi detainees. The company has been accused of lobbying politicians to ensure that more Americans go to prison, and it was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 for misspending $3 million in taxpayer funds at a site in Texas.

Speaking of large, hated Florida corporations: Ballard Partners is now Washington's go-to influence-peddler for U.S. Sugar and Florida Power & Light, two of the most universally reviled and environmentally unfriendly companies in the state.

In addition to boasting that lineup of corporate titans, Ballard Partners also nailed federal lobbying contracts with Amazon, American Airlines, Malaysian gambling giant Genting, Dish Network, and MGM Resorts. Closer to home, Brian Ballard himself is the chief lobbyist for David Beckham's soccer team, which has been negotiating with Miami-Dade County to build a stadium here for years, and the firm has lobbied the state on behalf of Miami-Dade County. (Ballard Partners was also a major fundraiser for Gov. Rick Scott's campaigns.) After years of lobbying in the political minor leagues, Ballard finally has his chance to go major thanks to Trump.

"The sad reality is that, instead of presaging a crackdown on lobbyists, Trump’s election was the opportunity of a lifetime for people in the influence business," Public Citizen said yesterday.

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