Trump’s America Is In Thrall of Special Interests

Donald Trump’s crusade to neuter federal regulatory agencies by appointing nominees with monumental conflicts of interest, and in many cases outright animus for whichever agency they eventually run continues unabated. It is a sad commentary, but it appears there are no federal agencies remaining to protect the American people from predatory special interests because they are run by predatory special interests. It is unclear if it was the kind of change Trump and Republican supporters really wanted, but regardless their intent, it is a travesty that malcontent racists, bigots, and religious fanatics have put all Americans at the mercy of predacious special interests.

As has been the case for the past year, the newest head of an important federal regulatory agency spent three decades waging war on the agency he is now leading. Obviously, Trump is too much of a lazy ignoramus and too disinterested in governing to have sought out a confirmed enemy of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), so it almost certainly fell to the Heritage Foundation to find the perfect energy industry surrogate to run the agency responsible for regulating the energy industry.

The newly sworn-in head of FERC, Kevin McIntyre, was a partner in a “prominent” Washington, D.C. law firm with close ties to the energy companies that are now under his regulatory purview. The law firm also represented Trump during the 2016 campaign.

As ThinkProgress reported, the energy industry advocate had close “ties to energy companies that fall under the FERC jurisdiction that were so numerous and ran so deep that his swearing-in as chairman of the agency was delayed to give him more time to ‘officially’ sever his close attorney-client relationships.”

This is the first time in nearly 30 years that a nominee went directly from representing the energy industry to running the agency responsible for regulating the energy industry. Moreover, in Kevin McIntyre’s case, those so-called “former” energy industry clients are “numerous and powerful” entities.

According the financial disclosure McIntyre submitted to the Office of Government Ethics, during the past two years the Trump-appointed FERC chairman represented several different “energy and utility companies” that have cases currently before the FERC. Those former clients include energy industry giants American Electrical Power Corp. (AEP) and Enable Mainstream Partners LP.

As a legal advocate for the energy industry for decades, it is not out of the ordinary for a partner in a “prominent” law firm fighting regulatory agencies to represent giant corporate interests. However, both of those energy giants McIntyre representedagainst the FERC have important “cases under consideration” by the same FERC he now heads as chair. In normal times, McIntyre’s nomination would have raised ‘conflict of interest’ red flags and engendered major opposition from every direction, but these are far from normal times because America is in thrall of special interests.

For a perfect example of why an energy industry advocate running a federal agency tasked with “regulating” a former client is sheer madness, consider two cases involving McIntyre’s “former” client AEP.

Several of AEP’s subsidiaries are accused of generating profits exceeding the rate rules set by the FERC, a case that Mr. McIntyre likely was at least aware of as a member of the legal team representing the energy giant. Similarly, another AEP subsidiary filed a complaint with the FERC accusing an electrical grid operator of unfair treatment. There are only two options to settle both of the cited cases involving McIntyre’s “former” client AEP; including one that seems unrealistic at best.

With a former corporate energy industry lawyer leading FERC, it does not appear likely that AEP will choose the option to reach an equitable settlement each side can live with. If AEP just refuses to reach an equitable deal and opts for option two, then their former legal advocate and now head of FERC will settle the issue for them with his majority Republican “commission.” One cannot imagine energy giant AEP having any interest in a deal that is fair to both sides with their former legal advocate as adjudicator.

McIntyre is just one in a long list of Trump appointees with strong corporate ties and just as strong conflicts of interest. By now a couple of Americans may realize that a significant number of Trump’s appointees hold radical views about the agencies they run whether they represent a corporate or religious special interest. As noted by Mark Hand, Trump’s corporate and special interest radicals “hold views that are much more extreme than policy positions espoused by officials in previous presidencies.”

That is very bad news for Americans who have all but lost what little protection they had prior to special interests running the government. In McIntyre’s case, there is no better example of a special interest advocate running a federal regulatory agency — like nearly all of Trump’s administration.

Mr. McIntyre admitted to reporters that the past thirty years of his career have been solely dedicated to defending the energy industry from the FERC, but he also claimed that he could stay neutral – under certain conditions.

McIntyre pledged in an ethics letter that he would not “participate personally and substantially in any particular manner involving specific parties” with ties to his former law firm; unless he obtains a waiver from one of the ethics officials at the agency he leads. He also claimed that he would not be a participant in any case that involves a former client; unless he receives prior authorization from an official at the agency he runs as Chairman.

It is now clear that there was a definite plan to fill top positions at regulatory agencies that had nothing to do with protecting the people. Trump has put a rash of corporate lawyers and special interest lobbyists to regulate the special interests they recently lobbied or advocated for in court and they have already started adversely impacting the people.

Obviously, Trump and Republicans comprehend that it is no easy task to abolish regulatory agencies and departments, but they are doing the next best thing by either starving them of funding or putting people in charge who have no interest in enforcing any regulations that protect the people. At this point it is difficult to tell if there are any federal agencies not being run by either the special interests they are supposed to regulate or long-time enemies of the agency they run; like Scott Pruitt at the EPA or Betsy DeVos at the Education Department.

It is no exaggeration to claim that the great majority of the federal government is now being run by corporate and religious special interests controlled and funded by a few Republican donors and oligarchs. The depressing aspect of this horror story is that this is the new “normal” and apparently it is no big deal that another corporate surrogate is running an important federal regulatory agency. Americans will soon learn that they now live under a government in thrall of special interests with no regard for the general welfare of the United States as a nation or the people. This nation’s government is the definition of a corporate fascist state and instead of a power-grab or coup d’état, all it took was a system that allows stupid, racist, and religious people to vote.