After a series of conflict-of-interest scandals involving his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine and China dinged Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the new prez laid down the law in a February interview: No family members getting plum gigs.
“We’re going to run this like the Obama-Biden administration,” Biden told an interviewer. “No one in our family and extended family is going to be involved in any government undertaking or foreign policy. And nobody has an office in this place.”
That was obviously both a dig at and a deflection to Donald Trump’s children and their spouses, some of whom served in various capacities in the last administration. This was a bit of a low bar; nobody thought Hunter was getting his own office at 1600 Pennsylvania, especially given the tight surveillance and abundance of smoke detectors around the joint.
While Biden’s family hasn’t moved into the executive manse with him, however, some of them have managed to pocket some decent coin off of Uncle Joe’s new gig. That’s true for the family members of those in Biden’s inner circle, as well — in particular Jeff Ricchetti.
Jeff’s brother Steve Ricchetti is a senior counselor to the president and helped organize Biden’s 2020 campaign. The Ricchetti brothers co-founded a lobbying firm in 2001, which Jeff still runs. (Steve was delisted as a lobbyist in 2008, although his ties to the firm in the intervening years have remained murky.)
In the first half of 2020, Ricchetti Inc. billed $370,000 in lobbying fees, according to The Wall Street Journal. During the same period this year? Oh, a measly $1.67 million, more than quadruple what he earned in 2020.
“After years of stagnation, Mr. Ricchetti’s client list began to grow rapidly as Mr. Biden won the Democratic nomination and defeated former President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, records show,” Julie Bykowicz reported in a Wednesday piece for the newspaper.
“Mr. Ricchetti has since picked up high-profile clients such as Amazon.com Inc., General Motors Co. and TC Energy Corp., the company behind the Keystone Pipeline.”
Well, that’s the darnedest coincidence. And lo and behold, the ethical red flags don’t end there.
“Lobbying disclosure records from the first three months of the year showed that in addition to contacting Congress, Jeff Ricchetti also was in touch with the Executive Office of the President, which includes West Wing staff, on behalf of several of his clients,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Records show Jeff Ricchetti had not lobbied the EOP during the Trump administration or most of the Obama administration.”
It’s not just that it’s good to have a friend close to the Oval Office. Many of Ricchetti’s clients have hired him to lobby on issues directly linked to White House decisions.
The most obvious is TC Energy, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline.
TC Energy engaged Ricchetti’s services five days before Biden was inaugurated and has paid him $180,000 thus far. To be fair, that bet doesn’t seem to have paid off yet — although given Biden’s campaign rhetoric on the issue, TC Energy might have been better off giving the money to an especially prayerful parish priest and hoping that, with God as an intermediary, the scales would fall from our “devout Catholic” president’s eyes.
Perhaps TC Energy tried, for all I know. Whatever the case, the $180,000 and the pipeline jobs were lost.
Other companies might have better results. Finseca, a financial planners and life-insurance brokers trade group, has also retained Ricchetti regarding Biden’s proposed inheritance tax code changes that the group says would make it burdensome on those inheriting wealth. Finseca is right, mind you, but that’s not the point — the group’s take is that the best way to bend Biden’s ear is to pay a close family member of one of his closest advisers.
Jeff Ricchetti’s defense is that “I do not lobby my brother, nor have I lobbied the White House this quarter” and that he doesn’t plan to lobby the White House in the future, according to an email he sent to The Wall Street Journal. The White House also said the Ricchetti brothers don’t communicate about Jeff’s lobbying and that Steve recuses himself on any issue where Jeff is involved.
If Steve Ricchetti isn’t providing Jeff with some kind of entrée into Washington circles he didn’t heretofore have, however, either Jeff isn’t making that clear to prospective clients or he’s telling them a different story than he’s telling The Wall Street Journal.
“Ricchetti Inc. was registered to lobby for nine or fewer clients and earned less than $300,000 in each quarter between 2014 and September 2020, records show,” Bykowicz reported. “The firm lobbied for 15 clients and earned $850,000 in the quarter that ended June 30, according to the Tuesday filings.”
Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying is just one worrying instance of relatives of those in Biden’s orbit getting jobs or financial windfalls they ordinarily wouldn’t.
The jobs department is where the arrant nepotism is particularly glaring. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s wife, Evan Ryan, serves as the White House Cabinet secretary. Stephanie Psaki, sister of White House press secretary Jen Psaki, is now a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has three relatives employed by the administration.
Steve Ricchetti manages to be a repeat offender in this department, too: His son J.J. Ricchetti was hired fresh out of college as a special assistant in the Treasury Department. See if you can spot the difference in experience between J.J. and some of the other special assistants at the Treasury Department:
Let’s play a game. See if you can guess which one of these special assistants at the treasury department has a daddy who’s one of the top aides to the president. See if you can guess the economic background of this privileged white boy. pic.twitter.com/kZCi1tHONH
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) June 16, 2021
And while Hunter Biden might not have an office in the White House, he’s still making his money off the family name, as his finger-painting iPhone wallpaper-level artwork is set to sell for up to half a million dollars per piece, all with no transparency regarding who buys it.
Maybe we should have asked for a little more from the elder Biden than just a promise that none of his progeny would set up shop at 1600 Pennsylvania.
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