Trump’s Florida Lobbyist Opens Washington Office, Bringing Big-Name Clients With Him

Frank Bass | February 17, 2017

February 17, 2017 -- A prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who represented the Trump Organization for the last four years is opening a new office to exploit his relationship with the president, who vowed during his campaign to “drain the swamp” by curbing the influence of lobbyists.

Brian Ballard, a long-time fixture in Florida politics who was President Donald Trump’s top campaign fundraiser in the key swing state, said earlier this month that Ballard Partners would open an office in the nation’s capital on behalf of clients who would “like to get to know some folks in the administration.”

Records released earlier this week show Ballard has already registered with the U.S. Senate to represent 14 clients, including American Airlines, Amazon, Florida Power & Light, U.S. Sugar Corp. and Univision. Ballard’s firm represents approximately 70 companies in Florida, ranging from the New York Yankees to Google.

Ballard began his rise in Florida politics in the early 1990s as chief of staff for former Gov. Bob Martinez, the Tampa mayor who became the state’s first governor of Spanish ancestry. Ballard was a state finance chairman for U.S. Sen. John McCain’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid, as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 race.

Although Trump is a resident of New York, the president has numerous business interests in Florida, including Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort. Trump also has battled state officials for two decades for the right to build a casino in Florida. Between 2013 and 2015, Ballard Partners was paid at least $580,000 to lobby Florida officials, according to the Washington Times.

Ballard initially supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2016 bid for the GOP nomination, then switched to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, another Floridian, claiming that Bush’s negative attacks were hurting his relationship with Rubio. Eventually, he emerged as a major Trump supporter, donating $100,000 to Trump’s joint fundraising account with the Republican National Committee.

The Trump Organization, which has been turned over to Trump’s two adult sons and longtime chief financial officer to manage, hasn’t had a lobbyist in Washington since 2001. Ballard represented it in the Florida capital between 2013 and 2016, according to state lobbying records.

During the campaign, Trump frequently vowed to “drain the swamp” by reducing the influence of lobbyists. Since taking office, however, Trump has hired a considerable number of lobbyists. Trump also watered down Obama-era ethics rules that attempted to slow down the “revolving door” of lobbyists entering government service, and vice versa.