Free Trade

Lobbyists Are Making Bank on Trump's Steel Tariffs

Steel manufacturers spent $12.2 million lobbying the federal government in 2018, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year.


Ronald Phillips/Newscom

President Donald Trump took office two years ago with promises to "drain the swamp"—but swamp-dwelling lobbying firms have been one of the main beneficiaries of his trade policies so far.

Steel manufacturers spent $12.2 million lobbying the federal government in 2018, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year, according to new data from Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending. The increase was likely a response to Trump's decision to place a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and to grant broad powers to the Commerce Department to decide which American steel-consuming industries would be exempt from those new taxes. Steel producers spent more on lobbying in 2018 than in any other single year since at least 1998, when the Center began tracking annual lobbying spending.

Leading the way was Nucor, a North Carolina-based steelmaker, which spent more than $2.2 million lobbying last year. Separately, Nucor CEO John Ferriola gave $25,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the president and the Republican National Committee, just weeks after Trump imposed the steel tariffs, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal also says Nucor sought to influence the appointment of two high ranking trade officials who serve within the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative—the two parts of the federal government with control over the implementation of the steel tariffs.

That the steel industry has tried to influence government policy is hardly a surprise. Neither is the fact that groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various industry groups representing steel-consuming businesses have also ramped up lobbying in opposition to Trump's tariffs. But the increase in lobbying spending highlights one of the unfortunate realities of Trump's bellicose trade policies: the more control government has over which businesses succeed and fail, the greater the demand for access to the halls of power.

One of the ways that the lobbying power of Nucor and other major U.S. steelmakers has manifested itself is in the all-important exclusion process that determines which imports are subject to tariffs and which are exempt. The shadowy process has no due process protections, little transparency, and appears to be ripe for corruption. An investigation by one congressional office last year found that the Commerce Department had not granted a single exemption when objections to the application had been raised by Nucor or U.S. Steel. The process does not allow denied applications to be appealed. In short, it is the perfect forum for a powerful special interest to do maximum damage.

"A petitioner's ability to state its case is limited to the submission of a standardized form and supporting electronic documentation," Willie Chiang, the CEO of a Texas-based pipeline company, told the House Ways and Means Committee during a hearing last year. "No forum is provided for interaction with those determining the merits of either the petitioners' or the objectors' arguments. In addition, there is no opportunity to respond to objections—even if the objections contain incorrect information."

A group of senators leading an effort to limit Trump's tariff authority have called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into the Commerce Department's exclusion process.

Rather than reducing the influence of the K Street swamp, Trump's dogged pursuit of tariffs has created enormous opportunities for lobbyists to shape government policy, and, more infuriatingly, to determine which of their competitors succeed and fail.

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  1. People who benefit from cheaper overseas goods hire lobbyists too and those lobbyists make bank when we get rid of tarriffs. Why is one any different or better than the other?

    1. How about because one set of lobbyists is lobbying for increased freedom and the other set for having the government put a gun to your head to extract more money?

      1. And if China makes a deal?

      2. So it is okay when your side does it.

  2. I’m not sure reason ‘writers’ understand what the swamp is– to them, it seems to be ‘anything we don’t like about DC–like those who would thwart the left-wing power structure’.

      1. You call this writing?

          1. It was all the letters and punctuation that gave it away.

    1. What they don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge if they do is that every economic policy whatever it is benefits some people and harms others. So, there is no pristine economic policy. Any policy will necessary advance the interests of some and harm the interests of others and although indirectly choose winners and losers. Basically they think that anyone who advances their policy is not engaging in dirty lobbying and any benefit they get from a particular policy is special where as everyone else is corrupt.

      1. I don’t get you John – the people benefiting from tariffs are benefiting from government coercion directed at other Americans.

        Why, why, why, why is one group of Americans deserving of government privilege over another group? None of you pro-tariff guys can ever explain why Peter should pay extra to pad Paul’s wallet. The closest you ever get is ‘well, muh managed trade!’ and go off on a tangent as to how Trump’s playing a long game that will end with all tariffs eliminated.

        1. Any policy will necessary advance the interests of some and harm the interests of others

          So let’s stop doing economic policy. Let’s stop letting the government manage trade. Let things settle down where they’d be if the government weren’t in there tipping the scales.

          1. No policy is a policy. You are just begging the question.

    2. I’d love for the Trump to first define it, since it’s his phrase now (others have used it). Otherwise it is just a meaningless campaign slogan that allows a candidate to state something that then the listener fills in the meaning. Ever person has different opinion of what the swamp means – to Dems it would be impeaching Trump.

  3. Some wish to do away with “lobbyists.” Doesn’t the 1st A give us the right to petition the government? That’s what lobbyists do.

    1. Yes it does. And anyone who bitches about lobbyists is really bitching about the 1st Amendment.

      1. Lobbying is protected by the 1A but Congressmen accepting money for their political position, is not.

        In fact, the Constitution seems to frown upon politicians and bureaucrats from getting loads of money from non-Americans.
        Article I, Section 9: No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.

    2. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But, in practice, your petition won’t get the same attention that the former staffer gets. I don’t have a problem with lobbying the government. But, former government officials should not be allowed to receive compensation to ‘petition the government’ on someone else’s behalf.

      1. If you want to get rid of lobbyist, shrink the government’s power and budget. That’s what they’re in Washington to get.

        1. BINGO!!!

          “the more control government has over which businesses succeed and fail, the greater the demand for access to the halls of power.”

          Remember Willie Sutton, the bank robber. He was asked: “Why do you rob banks?”

          Answer: “That’s where the money is!”

          Same with government. Shrink its budget and influence and you’ll not only reduce lobbying, you’ll reduce government corruption, waste, and incompetence, and put all these lobbyists to work at other (useful) things.

          1. Oh yeah, you’ll also get a lot of money out of campaigns – isn’t that a rallying cry of the progs?

        2. +1000

  4. Good point – let’s not give into the lobbyists!

    Tariffs on Communist China FOREVAH!

  5. I’m failing to even understand this article. How/Why would a U.S. Manufacturer even care to be lobbying about Tariffs (Foreign Imports) UNLESS they did ALL their manufacturing over seas?

    Is that what this is? Foreign interests lobbying our government by the means of inside pigeons?

    1. I’m failing to even understand your comment. Maybe their competitors do all their manufacturing overseas?

      1. Awe; Think I see my mistake now.. U.S. Manufacturers are lobbying FOR Tariffs on the retail market.

        Requiring the Non-U.S. Business (obviously not U.S.-Manufacturing) to pay Trade Tax (i.e. Tariffs) since they entirely skip out on U.S. Manufacturing Corporate/Property/Asset/Employee Tax while still reselling and depending upon the U.S. Boundaries government.

        Well, good for them I say. Working to close that unfair ‘loophole’ (oh how the wording fits — looping business).

        It would be really nice to see U.S. Taxation get to a point that wouldn’t require a significant Tariff but “cheating” the system through the means of applying Foreign Law (Exemption of China’s VAT tax for exports, USPS tax-payer subsidies to China on a UPU treaty, etc.. etc.. etc..) probably shouldn’t continue.

  6. Repeal the “redress of grievances” clause.

    1. I don’t think “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” means “bribe the government to impose grievances”.

      1. Your comment makes me wonder if a Detox system would cause an improvement. For all Justice, Legislative and Administration heads requiring them to sell all market-investments, deny all campaign funding and receive ONLY their politicians set-salary during their terms.

        Would it really be that hard for these politicians to make it on a $200K+ yearly Salary. Who’s knows; just thought I’d share that thought.

  7. Lobbyist spending goes up when government exercises more power? That’s unpossible.

  8. You know who else is making money off Trump everything Tariffs?

    That’s right, CNN…

  9. We should unilaterally repeal all tariffs and subsidies which are ultimately taxes on U.S. consumers and tax payers. If other countries want to subsidize my purchases (i.e. increase my wealth at their expense) or tax their own citizens purchases, that’s on them.

    1. While on the premise this sounds GREAT! I worry that without the International (Federal) governmental structures agreement that Trade may end up in the arms of anarchy – where that “subsidized foreign purchase” ends up being a purchase of empty boxes with no means of justice in-between.

      1. It would make no sense for them to do that.

        1. And yet just a few months ago I ordered an $80 item out of China to end up getting a $0.20 keychain. And I cannot even count the number of times I’ve been shorted (as in missing items) on “foreign trade” purchases. I think it makes sense for them BECAUSE they get paid and hope to keep it without earning it and think the two international governments won’t do anything about it.

          1. I don’t give money to anyone I haven’t researched. There’s your tip for the day.

      2. Trade may end up in the arms of anarchy

        Why would this be undesirable?

        1. When you receive your $200M worth of empty boxes; you might find that undesirable and without International Trade agreements setup by the power-houses (government) – you may not have any means of redemption and/or have any means of justice in the Trade.

          1. That’s not how business is done.

  10. Not surprising that the left supports Trump’s horrible trade policy.

    1. Booker’s looking for his beard?

    2. Did she tell him that’s the problem with men, they never want to commit? Not that she would know.

    3. Booker won’t have to worry about needing a VP much longer.

      He will be out of the running soon.

  11. I am making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people say to me how much money they can make connected so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my existence. This is what I do?.

  12. I am making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people say to me how much money they can make connected so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my existence. This is what I do?.

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