General Motors won a visit from President Biden Wednesday to an electric vehicle factory in Detroit after paying the brother of one of his senior advisers $160,000 in lobbying fees.
Jeff Ricchetti was paid the fees to lobby Congress and the White House to promote policies that favor electric vehicles, the Washington Free Beacon reports.
His brother Steve Ricchetti is part of Biden’s inner circle of advisers.
Biden will visit the GM plant after visiting a Ford electric vehicle facility in Dearborn, Mich., in May and cruising around the White House driveway in August in one of Chrysler’s electric Jeep Wranglers.
The Ricchetti family lobbying link has turned heads in Washington among ethicists — especially as Ricchetti serves as a prominent liaison between the West Wing and Capitol Hill.
Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying firm Ricchetti Inc. has collected $2.4 million in lobbying fees this year, versus just $1.2 million in 2020 before Biden took office, according to Opensecrets.org.
Other clients of the firm include Amazon, semiconductor maker Applied Materials Inc. and pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Evofem Biosciences, Neurocrine Biosciences and Eagle Pharmaceuticals.
Jeff Ricchetti and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Biden’s just-signed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package contains $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $5 billion to buy electric and low-emission buses.
And Biden’s proposed nearly $2 trillion social spending plan contains $555 billion for environmental initiatives including $12,500 rebates for the purchase of electric vehicles.
Disclosure forms say Jeff Ricchetti’s firm was hired by GM to lobby on “issues related to tax incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations,” “the availability of semiconductors” and “climate policy that affect the automobile industry,” the Free Beacon reports.
“Steve Ricchetti ought to completely recuse himself from any part of the legislation that his brother’s firm is lobbying on, and then have the White House not take calls from his brother,” Richard Painter, a former Democratic Senate candidate who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, told the Free Beacon.
For comparison purposes, Ricchetti’s role as counselor to the president was filled in the Trump administration by senior aides including Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. His influential post drew groans from left-wing Democrats who accused him of being too friendly with corporations after a career including work as a lobbyist himself.
The progressive group Justice Democrats slammed his role advising Biden, saying last year, “If Joe Biden continues making corporate-friendly appointments to his White House, he will risk quickly fracturing the hard-earned goodwill his team built with progressives to defeat Donald Trump.”
The group’s executive director Alexandra Rojas wrote that Ricchetti “is a former pharma lobbyist and has represented groups vociferously opposed to Medicare For All and the public manufacturing of prescription drugs.”
And other members of Ricchetti’s family have scored jobs across the Biden administration, prompting concern about nepotism in addition to worries about lobbying conflicts of interest.
JJ Ricchetti, Steve Ricchetti’s son and a 2020 college grad, landed a job at the Treasury Department. Ricchetti’s daughter, Shannon Ricchetti, also in her 20s, works in the office of the White House social secretary.
The US government’s former ethics chief slammed the Biden administration for a potentially “illegal” nepotism spree this year, saying that it “royally sucks” and is “a real ‘f— you’” to ethical governance.
Walter Shaub, director of the US Office of Government Ethics from 2013 to 2017, said, “I’m sorry, I know some folks don’t like hearing any criticism of him. But this royally sucks. I’m disgusted. A lot of us worked hard to tee him up to restore ethics to government and believed the promises. This is a real ‘f— you’ to us — and government ethics.”
Other top Biden aides with relatives in government include White House deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed, whose daughter Julia Reed was hired as Biden’s scheduler, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, whose wife, Meggie Goodlander, is a counsel to Attorney General Merrick Garland. His brother, Tom Sullivan, works at the State Department. Sullivan’s sister-in-law, Rose Sullivan, works at the Department of Health and Human Services.