Trump ally Tom Barrack hires lobbyists for coronavirus related issues

Thomas Barrack, Executive Chairman and CEO, Colony Capital, participates in a panel discussion during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 28, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.

Michael Kovac | Getty Images

One of President Donald Trump’s closest allies hired a top lobbying firm to advise on challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Colony Capital, a real estate investment firm run by Tom Barrack, recently hired lobbyists from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to focus on “issues related to COVID-19 relief packages,” according to a lobbying disclosure report first reviewed by CNBC. 

The form lists Colony Capital as the client and that the effective date of the firm registering to lobby for Barrack’s business was on March 20, just days before Trump signed the $2 trillion stimulus package. The lobbying form was officially signed on Tuesday and records indicate that Barrack’s company has never hired lobbyists. 

Barrack, who has been a longtime friend of the president, published a Medium post on March 22 warning the administration and Congress that commercial mortgage market is in free fall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has damaged the U.S. economy. 

Barrack hired the lobbyists from Brownstein to act as advisors for guidance on, not just the points he made in the post from two weeks ago, but counsel for when he speaks publicly and writes future papers on how the federal government should handle what he has publicly deemed a liquidity crisis that was brought on by the coronavirus, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.  This person declined to be named as these decisions were made in private. 

“The key point is there needs to be a broader understanding that this is a liquidity crisis and not yet a credit crisis and further damage to the system could be avoided if this is better understood,” this person told CNBC. 

Those listed on the form as lobbyists for Barrack and his company have extensive knowledge of government regulations. 

Barrack said in his post that high-performing mortgage loans were in the process of a “meltdown” and they were on the “brink of collapse” due to the impact of the virus. Barrack’s company is known as a real estate investment trust and would be involved with these types of loans.  

Barrack made what he called “suggestions” to the Trump administration, Congress and other government entities for how to solve this problem. One way, Barrack said at the time, was to “encourage Congress to provide an amount up to $500 billion to the Secretary of the Treasury to support programs or facilities for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system” he wrote. The Colony Capital CEO said in an interview Monday that he wasn’t too optimistic about his chances of seeing aid being given to the commercial mortgage market if there is another round of economic stimulus. 

“We’re fighting politics,” he told Bloomberg News. “In an election year, nobody wants to be viewed as bailing out over-leveraged industries — even if that’s not what is happening.”

The lobbyists helping Barrack have extensive experience in the regulatory field. 

Marc Lampkin, a partner at Brownstein, was once an advisor to Republican former House Speaker John Boehner, while Travis Norton previously served as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee, tax counsel to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and the general counsel of the House Financial Services Committee.  The group of lobbyists assisting Colony Capital also includes Norman Brownstein, a founding member of the firm, who has worked closely with House Ways and Means Committee members, Senate Finance Committee members and those on the Joint Committee on Taxation.

A representative for Colony and all the advisors listed on the registration form did not return a request for comment. 

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