OMB's Mulvaney Draws Bipartisan Criticism Over Lobbyist Comments

(Bloomberg) -- Republicans and Democrats expressed outrage Wednesday over a statement by White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that when he was a congressman he gave priority access to lobbyists who donated to his campaign.

“I think that’s a bad idea anywhere,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican. “I meet with people who work like the dickens against me. I’ve probably had fundamental differences. It should not be based on money -- we represent the people.”

Some Democrats called on Mulvaney to resign over his comments Tuesday to a banking industry conference.

"Deciding who you will meet with based on campaign contributions is the kind of ‘pay to play’ that understandably makes Americans furious with Washington,” said the Senate Banking Committee’s top Democrat, Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Mulvaney urged members of the American Bankers Association on Tuesday to press sympathetic lawmakers to help him reshape and rein in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He’s acting director of the bureau, in addition to his Office of Management and Budget duties. His remarks reinforce a public perception that politicians and officials in Washington pay greater attention to people and organizations with money.

“I’m going to put my old congressional hat on for a second," Mulvaney said. "What you do here matters. We had a hierarchy in our office in Congress. If you are a lobbyist that never gave us money I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

Home State

For constituents who visited his congressional office from his home state of South Carolina, "I talked to you without exception -- regardless of the financial contributions," Mulvaney said. "People coming from back home to tell people in Congress what issues are important to them is one of the fundamental underpinnings of our representative democracy and you have to continue to do it."

Illinois Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky also called for Mulvaney to step down.

"It’s a total admission of the role of money in decision-making around here, and he should be ashamed of himself," said Schakowsky in an interview.

Mulvaney antagonist Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote on Twitter that the remarks showed that President Donald Trump’s administration is "the most corrupt administration ever."

Budget office spokesman John Czwartacki defended Mulvaney’s remarks on Twitter Tuesday. "Director Mulvaney’s speech today to the ABA made it clear that being from ‘back home’ is ‘without exception’ more important than money when visiting congressmen," he tweeted.

Some Republicans took issue with the idea that contributions should have any influence in meetings with lobbyists.

Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe said he couldn’t believe Mulvaney said what he did.

"I’m shocked -- even if he felt that way -- that he would say that," he said.

But House Appropriations Committee member Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said he had no reason to question Mulvaney’s integrity despite the remarks, noting he "wasn’t exactly a lobbyist’s favorite when he was here."

Cole, who has been meeting with the White House budget office on a coming request to cancel 2018 spending, said Mulvaney likely misspoke.

"I think he probably wishes he had it back," the lawmaker said.

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