While most of the Republican establishment has embraced Donald Trump as its presidential nominee, K Street lobbyists have remained holdouts, no doubt stung by his populist fusillades against interest groups and their hired guns.
In contrast to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who cultivated hundreds of donors from K Street during the first six months of 2016, Trump reported only nine — including former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana and ex-Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, both Republicans.
Registered lobbyists and lobbying groups must file semi-annual reports under the Lobbying Disclosure Act detailing their campaign contributions. Many reports have already been submitted for the Jan. 1 to June 30 period, ahead of the Monday deadline.
“I’ve always tried to stay attuned to what’s going on in the Chili’s restaurants and Wal-Marts, not just among the media or the Republican or Democratic elites — it’s a different world,” said Bonilla, a lobbyist with the Normandy Group, who shuttles between San Antonio and Washington, D.C.
Bonilla said he agreed to be a surrogate for the Trump campaign, focusing on Hispanic outreach, though he added he has not yet been asked to do any such work. “A lot of people misjudge Hispanics, that they only care about supporting illegal immigration,” Bonilla said. “Many are for abiding by the law and doing immigration legally, but they never get any play in the media.”
Bonilla disclosed a late June $2,700 donation to the Trump Victory Fund, a joint fundraising effort between the real estate mogul’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. Bonilla’s registered clients include American Airlines, cloud computing company Rackspace and the Council for Opportunity in Education, according to lobbying disclosures.
Bonilla said that while Trump was not his first choice, he’s overcome initial misgivings.
“Why wouldn’t we want to have somebody in there who’s ready to kick some butt, rather than the same old stuff?” he said.
The Texan acknowledged that others on K Street haven’t been as eager to join the campaign, even though Trump’s top campaign aide, Paul Manafort, is a former lobbyist and foreign agent.
“I’m hearing the reluctance because a lot of them, unlike me, live here all the time,” he said, referring to Washington, D.C. “They’re not in touch with the Targets and Olive Garden restaurants, they all tend to still hang out at the Capital Grille, so they can’t understand it.”
Livingston, a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who nearly served as House Speaker, disclosed donating $5,400 to Trump’s campaign on June 13. The Louisiana Republican had voiced his support for Trump this spring. Shortly after that announcement, Livingston split with a longtime client, the City of New Orleans. Local news reports said it came over the Trump endorsement.
“It was a mutual parting of a ways,” said Hayne Rainey, press secretary for the city’s Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We are appreciative of Mr. Livingston and his team’s hard work on behalf of the City of New Orleans.”
Livingston didn’t return calls seeking comment. The Livingston Group filed a client termination report stating that it stopped representing the city on March 23, two days after the former lawmaker said publicly that he backed Trump.
Allen Martin, also a lobbyist at the Livingston Group, reported donating $1,000 to the Donald J. Trump for President campaign this year.
Another GOP lobbyist, David Tamasi, serves as a Washington, D.C., finance chairman for the Trump Victory Fund and reported two $5,000 donations to the joint-fundraising committee, both in June. He initially backed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and then later Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP primaries.
“The giving is consistent with my intent to financially support the nominee, which in this case is Donald J. Trump, and the party,” said Tamasi, a lobbyist with Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.
He added that as the election season heats up, he expects more Republican lobbyists will donate to Trump, though he isn’t likely to catch up to Clinton.
Nine lobbyists disclosed donations to Trump so far this year, as of midday Thursday, while 296 reported contributions to Clinton. The reports cover donations made between January and June of this year.
In the previous reporting period, covering donations made July 2015 through December 2015, three lobbyists reported donations to Trump, while almost 300 lobbyists and their affiliated political action committees disclosed giving to Clinton.
“That disparity in the support from K Street is reflective of their campaign positioning,” Tamasi said.