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With unusual candor, Mulvaney talks about selling access to lobbyists

Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, yesterday described a pay-to-play scheme in explicit terms. It's almost cartoonish in its malevolence.
Mick Mulvaney
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney listens to a question during a press briefing at the White House, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Washington.

Mick Mulvaney. Donald Trump's budget director and the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been quite busy lately -- but not in a good way.

The far-right Republican has not, for example, been busy protecting Americans' financial interests. On the contrary, Mulvaney has effectively stopped all enforcement actions at the CFPB, while also taking outrageous steps to help the payday-loan industry.

Instead, Mulvaney has been busy moving in the opposite direction. He's been working on changing the name of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection -- critics believe he's trying to lower the agency's profile and make it less accessible -- while also advancing a plan to make it harder for American consumers to file complaints against financial institutions suspected of abuses.

Mulvaney has also been busy giving advice to bankers on their political activities in the Trump era. The New York Times  reported overnight:

[Mulvaney] told banking industry executives on Tuesday that they should press lawmakers hard to pursue their agenda, and revealed that, as a congressman, he would meet only with lobbyists if they had contributed to his campaign."We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress," Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. "If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

Cynics who assume the worst of federal officials often suspect members of Congress sell access to lobbyists, but it's exceedingly rare to hear a prominent politician brag about such corruption in public.

Indeed, as part of his presentation to bankers, Mulvaney talked about additional steps he wants to take to weaken the agency he leads, and he encouraged the financial industry to help him in this endeavor by making campaign contributions that would enhance their influence on Capitol Hill.

I don't think I've ever heard a federal policymaker describe a pay-to-play scheme in such explicit terms. It's almost cartoonish in its malevolence: Mick Mulvaney, a uniquely powerful official, wants to undermine American consumers' interests in order to help big banks, and to that end, he also wants the financial industry to buy politicians' attention --- which he believes is for sale based on his own previous conduct as a member of Congress.

This, according to Mulvaney, is key to lobbying success in the Trump era.

Donald Trump said last week, "From the day I took the oath of office, I've been fighting to drain the swamp. And sometimes it may not look like it, but believe me, we are draining the swamp." To which his budget director effectively responded, "Actually, no, we're really not."

Ideally, Mulvaney's boasts about corruption would cost him his job. In the Trump administration, there's reason to fear he may instead be rewarded with some kind of promotion.

It's been a very long time since Americans have seen a culture of corruption this brazen. There was a time when we'd expect to hear comments like Mulvaney's picked up on a wire as part of a law-enforcement sting operation; now the nation's budget director feels comfortable making comments like these in public, in front of a room full of corporate allies.