Carl Icahn Accused of Federal Lobbying Rules Violations
Tropicana Casino owner Carl Icahn is accused of violating federal lobbying rules of by a consumer advocacy group. The group, known as Public Citizen, filed a complaint to the United States Congress on Wednesday, saying Icahn violated rules by advocating a change to the federal ethanol regulations.
If found to have to violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act, Carl Icahn would face a stiff fine and be barred from lobbying in the future. President Donald Trump would be forced to rely on other regulatory advisers, while New Jersey’s gaming industry would lose a powerful voice in the new administration.
Public Citizen filed the complaint against Carl Icahn, Icahn Enterprises, and the CVR oil refining company which Mr. Icahn owns. The group said that Icahn failed to register as lobbyists while lobbying the White House to change the EPA’s rules on ethanal. If the White House changed the decades-old ethanol rules, it would save Carl Icahn’s businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.
Carl Icahn: Special Adviser on Regulatory Issues
In December 2016, then President-Elect Donald Trump named Carl Icahn as his special adviser on regulatory reform. When that decision was announced, Icahn released a statement saying he would “not be serving as a federal employee or a special government employee and will not have any specific duties.”
Carl Icahn is estimated to be worth nearly $22 billion by Forbes, so his knowledge of business regulations is substantial. At the same time, the billionaire’s conflict of interest in advising President Trump is assailable. According to Politico, Carl Icahn has lobbied “aggressively” for changes to the ethanol rules under the Environmental Protect Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard throughout 2016.
Icahn’s Letter on RFS Lobbying Reform
On February 27, Carl Icahn submitted an RFS reform proposal to the White House which called for a vast overhaul of the program. The major policy change would be to shift the financial burden of rules compliance with ethanol rules to fuel wholesalers. Under terms of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the EPA has the authority to set policies for the United States’ biofuels program.
In the letter, Mr. Icahn called for the House of Representatives’ clerk and the Senate’s secretary to investigate into the activities of Icahn and CVR, and whether their conduct constitutes lobbying.
The letter, which was signed by the oil refiner, Valero Energy, recommended that Donald Trump direct the Environmental Protection Agency to make the necessary changes. Public Citizen’s complaint states that the memo sent amounts to lobbying without a license to do so.
The Lobbying Disclosure Act
Public Citizen’s complaint to Congress stated, “All of this has occurred with no record of any [Lobbying Disclosure Act] filings by or on behalf of Mr. Icahn, Icahn Enterprises or CVR Energy. It is unlikely that all these activities occurred without some individual or entity being obligated to report lobbying activity under the LDA.”
Public Citizen also points to Icahn’s role in selecting Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Pruitt’s nomination was one of the most controversial cabinet positions during the transition period, because Scott Pruitt sued the EPA thirteen times and has said he would like to abolish the agency he now heads.
Is Carl Icahn a Lobbyist or Adviser?
Carl Icahn and Donald Trump would argue that this is no kind of lobbying at all. Since Donald Trump appointed Carl Icahn to be his special adviser on regulations and this was annnounced to the world, Icahn is acting as a presidential adviser.
President Trump is going to argue that he has every right to appoint Carl Icahn as an adviser. Under those auspices, a lobbying license is not required to offer opinions. If the Congress investigated and punished everyone in such a role, then chief strategist Steve Bannon might be punished for advocating better relations with Russia or higher spending on the military.
Public Citizen: No License to Lobby
Because Mr. Icahn is not being paid and is not considered to be an employee of the government generally or the White House specifically, Public Citizen argues that the memo is nothing more than a form of lobbying. At best, Icahn is given cover to lobby for one of the industry’s he’s heavily vested in, by being appointed as a lobbyist.
Public Opinion would argue, under the Trump-Icahn interpretation of lobbying laws, a president could appoint an endless number of industry executives as his “special adviser” in a field. If this stood, then lobbying laws could be skirted with a press release. Because of Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” when it came to lobbying and lobbyists, Public Opinion might be seeking to make a political point with their complaint.
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