Five paragraphs into the Wall Street Journal’s article about how Carl Icahn, a legendary investor worth about $20 billion, will serve as a special advisor to Donald Trump on regulatory matters, things get interesting.
“The position isn’t an official government job,” the Journal reports. “Mr. Icahn won’t get paid and won’t have to give up his current business dealings.”
Of course, even if Icahn did get paid, the salary would be peanuts compared with his net worth. More to the point, the monetary value of getting to influence federal regulatory policy when you already have $20 billion in outstanding investments is enormous. Back in August, for example, Icahn was complaining to the media about a particular obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that was hurting a refining company he owns.
Complaining to the media about regulatory decisions you don’t like is, of course, as American as apple pie. So is hiring a lobbyist or three to press your case. But to have an active businessman formally in a position to do the regulatory work is a fairly open invitation to corruption.
And that’s the kind of thing that past administrations have tried to avoid. But since Donald Trump himself is tied up in unprecedented conflicts of interest, that apparently lowers the bar for the rest of his team too.