The brother of one of President Joe Biden’s leading advisors started lobbying the White House earlier this year on behalf of several prominent health care companies as the administration began its efforts to combat the Covid pandemic.
Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of longtime Biden advisor and White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, started lobbying the Executive Office of the President in the first quarter, according to new disclosure reports reviewed by CNBC.
The lobbying disclosures show that Jeff Ricchetti lobbied the Executive Office of the President for health care giants GlaxoSmithKline, Horizon Therapeutics and Vaxart Inc. His efforts for these firms came as the Biden administration ramped up efforts to combat the Covid pandemic with a vaccination blitz and other initiatives.
Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying activity took place between January through the end of March, according to the documents. Biden was inaugurated Jan. 20. Jeff Ricchetti started working for the health care companies before Election Day in November.
After Biden won the 2020 election, ethics experts told CNBC that Steve Ricchetti could be forced to recuse himself from certain issues pertaining to his brother’s lobbying business.
In a rare statement, Jeff Ricchetti told CNBC that he has not lobbied his brother. He also did not provide details on his recent efforts engaging with the Biden administration.
“I do not lobby my brother and I have not even mentioned to him the names of clients that I currently represent,” Jeff Ricchetti said in an email Wednesday. “For the better part of the last thirty years I have lobbied Members of Congress and their staff, and various individuals who have served in the successive Administrations. It is what I do for a living.”
The Executive Office of the President includes several advisory groups for the president, including the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget.
He lobbied the office for his corporate clients on a wide range of topics, including on issues pertaining to a Covid-19 antibody treatment. Records indicate that Jeff Ricchetti did not lobby the Executive Office of the President under former President Donald Trump.
Records suggest that the last time Jeff Ricchetti lobbied the Executive Office of the President was in 2000 during Bill Clinton’s administration. At that time, Ricchetti was working for the Podesta Group, which was co-founded by longtime political advisors John and Tony Podesta. John Podesta, at the time, was Clinton’s chief of staff.
CNBC asked the White House a litany of questions on Ricchetti’s effort to lobby the influential office, including queries on who he spoke with. A White House official responded to CNBC’s inquiry only by stating that “Steve Ricchetti does not and has not had conversations with Jeff Ricchetti relating to his business representations on any matter.”
The official also pointed to a wide range of ethics experts that praised Biden’s ethics pledge, including Norman Eisen, a key ethics advisor for Obama and his team.
Biden’s ethics pledge calls for the president’s appointees not to be involved with any issues linked to their previous employer or former clients, including lobbyists coming into the administration who recently worked in the influence industry.
Steve and Jeff Ricchetti co-founded the lobbying firm Ricchetti Inc. Steve Ricchetti has not been registered to lobby for a over a decade.
Ethics experts told CNBC that it’s concerning to see Jeff Ricchetti engaging with the Executive Office of the President while his brother advises Biden.
Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics under Obama and, for a short period of time, under Trump, compared the Ricchetti brother’s situation dilemma to an instance from the Trump years.
“This is reminiscent of Matt Schlapp lobbying the Executive Office of the President while his wife worked there. It’s concerning,” Shaub told CNBC, referring to former Trump White House communications strategist Mercedes Schlapp. “There’s no escaping that lobbying the EOP while your relative works there creates the appearance of peddling influence.”
Steve Ricchetti reportedly has a broad portfolio in his White House role, including acting as a liaison to business leaders and discussing Biden’s infrastructure priorities with moderate lawmakers.
Jeff Ricchetti’s business has picked up a great deal during the early days of the Biden administration.
The Center for Responsive Politics notes that his firm brought in $820,000 in the first quarter of 2021, nearly five times the amount more than he earned in the first quarter last year.
GlaxoSmithKline paid the firm $60,000 in the first quarter. He engaged with the Executive Office of the President, along with members of Congress, on a wide range of health care issues, including those linked to what’s described on the form as “Covid-19 antibody treatment approval.”
The company did not elaborate on the specifics of Jeff Ricchetti’s lobbying efforts.
“GSK has always worked with policymakers of both political parties to ensure our voice is heard on important policy issues that affect our industry and the patients we serve. We hired Ricchetti Inc. based on their long history of working with centrist Democrats on tax and health policy issues,” Lyndsay Meyer, a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical firm, told CNBC.
GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology announced their submission to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency authorization use for their Covid antibody treatment at the end of March.
Horizon Therapeutics paid Ricchetti $80,000 in the first quarter. He went on to lobby the Executive Office of the President, Congress and Health and Human Services on their behalf, including on “issues related to drug pricing and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement,” the quarterly document says.
A spokesman for Horizon declined to comment for this story.
Vaxart paid Ricchetti $80,000 in the first quarter. He lobbied the Executive Office of the President, Congress and the Health and Human Services Department on “legislative and regulatory policies regarding oral vaccine development and funding,” the filing says.
“The urgent effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has focused on injectables and many policymakers don’t know that the Holy Grail is an oral tablet — an oral tablet is easier to distribute, administer, and is stable at room temperature, unlike injectables,” a company spokesman told CNBC. “It also overcomes needle-phobia that many Americans suffer from. We have asked Mr. Ricchetti to help us educate policy makers about the oral tablet option.”
The company declined to comment further on the matter.
Another recent lobbying report says Jeff Ricchetti lobbied the office for natural gas company TC Energy. He registered to lobby for TC Energy in January, just before Biden was inaugurated.
TC Energy paid Ricchetti $90,000 to lobby in the first quarter. The lobbying disclosure form noting he focused on the Executive Office of the President on “legislative issues affecting energy infrastructure, the safe and efficient transportation of natural gas and liquids energy, renewable electricity policy, and alternative fuel sources like renewable natural gas and hydrogen.”
Despite what the filing says, the company denied that Jeff Ricchetti is lobbying the White House on its behalf.
“Jeff Ricchetti is part of a diverse team of advisors who provide strategic advice and counsel to our company on a wide range of energy issues. Jeff’s work on our behalf is limited to lobbying Members of Congress. He does not lobby the White House on our behalf,” Marc Palazzo, TC Energy vice president of U.S. stakeholder relations, said in a statement.
The company did not return follow up requests for comment about what the lobbying disclosure report says.