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WASHINGTON, D.C. April 5, 2019 – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, again called on federal officials to investigate whether Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and his former lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and the False Statements Act by failing to disclose Mr. Bernhardt’s apparent lobbying in connection with Westlands Water District (Westlands), an agricultural conglomerate in California. New documents indicate that Mr. Bernhardt continued to work for Westlands through April 2017 despite formally withdrawing his lobbying registration on November 18, 2016.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Newly released documents indicate David Bernhardt worked as a secret lobbyist for his old client for nearly five months after he claimed he had stopped. In fact, Mr. Bernhardt was working with his lobbying clients the very same week he was nominated to be deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior. These new documents indicate that the public cannot trust David Bernhardt’s to be forthcoming in disclosing his lobbying activities. Federal officials should immediately conduct an investigation to determine if Mr. Bernhardt or his former lobbying firm broke the law.”
On April 4, 2019, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm sent an invoice entitled “Federal Lobbying” to Westlands in March 2017, which included a $2,432.68 bill for Mr. Bernhardt’s travel and $25,000 “for professional services rendered” in February 2017. Additionally, documents obtained by California environmental activists indicate Mr. Bernhardt worked with Westlands officials to plan their April 2017 meetings in Washington with congressional officials and executive agencies.
However, Mr. Bernhardt’s lobbying disclosure reports indicate he ceased lobbying on behalf of Westlands on November 18, 2016, nearly five months before he apparently terminated his actual lobbying activity. By failing to properly disclose this activity, Mr. Bernhardt and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP appear to have violated the LDA.
Additionally, given that Mr. Bernhardt was being considered for a top position in the Trump Administration, the omissions may have been intentional, which would be a violation of the False Statements Act. CfA’s complaint calls on the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to investigate the matter.
Previously, on July 20, 2017, CfA asked the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to open an investigation into Mr. Bernhardt’s lobbying activityafter he continued to lobby for Westlands through January 2017, despite formally withdrawing his registration in November 2016.
Mr. Stevens elaborated, “David Bernhardt is being considered for one of the most powerful jobs in the federal government. If he can’t tell the truth about his lobbying record, how can we trust him to uphold the rule of law while running the Interior Department? If Acting Secretary Bernhardt violated lobbying disclosure laws, he needs to be held accountable.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.