President Joe Biden, who sits with Senator Angus King (I-ME), Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), speaks during a bipartisan meeting on the American employment plan at the White House in Washington, April 19 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The brother of one of President Joe Biden’s senior advisors began lobbying the White House earlier this year on behalf of several well-known healthcare companies as the government began efforts to fight the Covid pandemic.
Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of longtime Biden advisor and White House advisor Steve Ricchetti, began lobbying the president’s executive office in the first quarter. This is evident from new disclosure reports that have been reviewed by CNBC.
The lobbying data shows that Jeff Ricchetti hired the EOP for health giants GlaxoSmithKline, Horizon Therapeutics and Vaxart Inc. His efforts for these companies came when the Biden government stepped up its efforts to fight the Covid pandemic with a vaccination flash and other initiatives.
Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying took place from January to late March, according to the records. Biden was inaugurated on January 20th. Jeff Ricchetti started working for the healthcare companies before Election Day in November.
After Biden won the 2020 election, ethics experts told CNBC that Steve Ricchetti might be forced to back out of certain questions related to his brother’s lobbying business.
In a rare statement, Jeff Ricchetti told CNBC that he hadn’t lobbyed his brother. He also did not provide details of his recent efforts with the Biden administration.
“I don’t stand up for my brother and haven’t even given him the names of the customers I currently represent,” said Jeff Ricchetti in an email on Wednesday. “For the past thirty years, I have advocated members of Congress and their staff, as well as various individuals who have served in successive administrations. This is what I do for a living.”
The EOP comprises several advisory groups to the President, including the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Security Council and the Bureau of Administration and Budget.
He campaigned for his corporate clients’ EOP on a variety of topics, including issues related to treatment with Covid-19 antibodies. Records show that Jeff Ricchetti did not lobby the EOP under former President Donald Trump.
Records suggest that Jeff Ricchetti last lobbyed the EOP in 2000, during Bill Clinton’s tenure. At the time, Ricchetti was working for the Podesta group, which was co-founded by longtime political advisors John and Tony Podesta. John Podesta was Clinton’s chief of staff at the time.
CNBC asked the White House a slew of questions about Ricchetti’s efforts to stand up for the influential office, including who he was speaking to. A White House official responded to CNBC’s inquiry by saying, “Steve Ricchetti has not and has not had discussions with Jeff Ricchetti through his business dealings on any matter.”
The official also pointed to a wide range of ethics experts who praised Biden’s ethics pledges, including Norman Eisen, a key ethics advisor to Obama and his team.
Biden’s Ethics Pledge requires that those appointed by the president not deal with issues related to their previous employer or former client, including lobbyists who come into administration and have recently worked in the influence industry.
President’s Advisor Steve Ricchetti (C) gestures after playing a round of golf with President Joe Biden at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware on April 17, 2021.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Steve and Jeff Ricchetti were co-founders of the lobby company Ricchetti Inc. Steve Ricchetti has not been registered in the lobby for over a decade.
Ethics experts told CNBC that the point is to see Jeff Ricchetti at the EOP while his brother advises Biden.
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics under Obama and briefly under Trump, compared the situation of the Ricchetti brothers with an example from the Trump years.
“This is reminiscent of Matt Schlapp’s lobbying work in the president’s executive office while his wife worked there. It’s worrying,” Shaub told CNBC, referring to former Trump White House communications strategist Mercedes Schlapp. “It cannot be overlooked that the lobbying of the EOP while your relative is working there creates the appearance of an influence on the peddling.”
Steve Ricchetti reportedly has a broad portfolio in his White House role, including liaising with business executives and discussing Biden’s infrastructure priorities with moderate lawmakers.
Jeff Ricchetti’s business grew significantly in the early days of the Biden administration.
The Center for Responsive Politics notes that its company grossed $ 820,000 in the first quarter of 2021, nearly five times more than in the first quarter of last year.
GlaxoSmithKline paid the company $ 60,000 in the first quarter. He, along with members of Congress, engaged with the EOP on a variety of health issues, including those related to what is described on the form as “Approval for the Treatment of Covid-19 Antibodies”.
The company did not go into the details of Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying work.
“GSK has always worked with policymakers from both political parties to ensure our voices are heard on major policy issues that affect our industry and the patients we care for. We have Ricchetti Inc. because of its long history of working with centrist Democrats policy issues in taxes and health set, “Lyndsay Meyer, a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical company, told CNBC.
GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology announced in late March that they had filed an emergency permit with the Food and Drug Administration for their treatment with Covid antibodies.
Horizon Therapeutics paid Ricchetti $ 80,000 in the first quarter. He campaigned on their behalf for the EOP, Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services, including on “issues related to drug pricing and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement,” the quarterly document reads.
A spokesman for Horizon declined to comment on the story.
Vaxart paid Ricchetti $ 80,000 in the first quarter. He advocated “Legislative and Regulatory Guidelines for the Development and Funding of Oral Vaccines” at the EOP, Congress and Health and Social Services, the file reads.
“The urgent effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has centered on injectables, and many policy makers are unaware that the Holy Grail is an oral tablet – an oral tablet, unlike injectables, is easier to distribute, administer and use stable at room temperature, “a company spokesman told CNBC. “It also overcomes the needle phobia that many Americans suffer from. We asked Mr. Ricchetti to help educate policy makers about the oral tablet option.”
The company declined to comment on the matter.
Another recent lobbying report said Jeff Ricchetti was lobbying the office of natural gas company TC Energy. He signed up with TC Energy in January just before Biden was inaugurated.
TC Energy paid Ricchetti $ 90,000 for lobbying in the first quarter. The lobbying disclosure form said he focused on the EOP on “Legislative issues affecting energy infrastructure, the safe and efficient transportation of natural gas and liquids, renewable electricity policies and alternative fuels such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen” .
Despite what the file said, the company denied that Jeff Ricchetti was lobbying the White House on his behalf.
“Jeff Ricchetti is part of a diverse team of advisors who strategically advise and advise our company on a variety of energy issues. Jeff’s work on our behalf is limited to lobbying for members of Congress. He is not a White House advocate,” said Marc Palazzo. TC Energy Vice President, US Stakeholder Relations, in a statement.
The company did not respond to follow-up requests for comments on the information in the lobbying disclosure report.