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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New Biden team at top means wider turnover of who's 'in' and 'out'

Frank Biden, a brother of President Joe Biden,

Frank Biden, a brother of President Joe Biden, has caused a stir for appearing in a Florida law firm's ad touting the family relationship. Credit: TNS / The Palm Beach Post / George Bennett

Transitions bring new boldface names to the lucrative lobbying scene. During the Trump administration, for instance, a passing spotlight fell on presidential allies who made big money helping companies win special exemptions from the administration's tariffs. Influence peddlers connected to the last president, Donald Trump, also pushed dozens of last-minute pardons. And a sizable number of industry lobbyists made their way onto the executive branch payroll.

With President Joe Biden in office, tales of Washington lobbying feature a different cast of players. One news item this week: According to ABC News, Jeff Ricchetti, a lobbyist brother of Biden's new White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, reported his best quarter in business since 2009 after picking up major new clients just before and after the November election. Jeff Ricchetti has represented pharma firms, for example.

The response from a Ricchetti loyalist to the TV network: "Jeff has never and will never lobby his brother on behalf of any of his clients, and Steve has had no role in his brother’s business since he sold his stake in the firm in 2012."

The roles of different clients change too, along with who's hot and who's not on K Street. Facebook and Amazon topped all other U.S. companies in federal lobbying expenditures last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, surpassing such big names as AT&T and Boeing. Corporate lobbying is expected to pick up further as powerful tech companies draw more federal scrutiny.

On taking office, Biden signed an executive order banning senior presidential appointees from accepting special bonuses akin to "golden parachutes" from former employers as they join government. Several other new restrictions were imposed. In contrast, hours before leaving office, Trump moved to lift the five-year lobbying ban for former members of his administration that he made a great show of touting four year ago.

One area to watch under Biden will be lobbying transactions on behalf of foreign governments, which of course didn't begin with Trump but helped fuel multiple scandals during the Trump administration. Special counsel Robert Mueller's use of the Foreign Agent Registration Act against several Trump campaign associates marked a new enforcement of that law.

Just which advocates may have the ear of Biden appointees already generates criticism from progressives. Biden named former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, as a senior White house adviser and as director of the Office of Public Engagement. The Sunrise Movement, a group of climate activists, expressed disappointment, citing Richmond’s past ties to the oil and gas industry.

The optics of potential personal influence always generate interest. On Inauguration Day, Biden's younger brother Frank touted the family name in an ad for a Florida law firm where, as a non-attorney, Frank Biden is listed as senior adviser.

Frank Biden said in an email to CNBC: "I have never used my brother to obtain clients for my firm. Our firm has long been involved [with] this lawsuit," a class-action case against a sugar cane company. "Social justice is something I have been involved in for years. I will never be employed by any lobbyist or lobbying firm."

A Biden administration official told the network: "It is this White House’s policy that the President’s name should not be used in connection with any commercial activities to suggest, or in any way that could reasonably understood to imply, his endorsement or support."

Richard Painter, former ethics officer in the George W. Bush administration, said the ad is not a good look. Proportionally, of course, the concerns do not quite match those about the last president, who promoted his business ventures from the White House. Painter was among Trump's most vocal critics.

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