Two of President-elect Donald Trump’s former top aides may be pushing him to keep U.S. tax dollars flowing to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim by protecting one of the most fraud-ridden welfare programs in the federal government, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, and Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to the campaign, recently formed the Avenue Strategies lobbying firm.
Bennett is or was — he declined to talk to TheDCNF — chief executive of a secretive front group whose goal was keeping the spigots of money flowing to the so-called Obama phone welfare program, officially known as Lifeline. TracFone, a prepaid cell phone company owned by Slim is by far the biggest beneficiary of the program.
Trump met with Slim Saturday in Palm Beach. Politico reported Wednesday that Bennett said Lewandowski arranged the meeting.
The duo is a natural point of introduction, given Bennett’s role running Prepaid Wireless Users of America (PWUA), which paid Bennett’s previous advocacy firm, BKM Strategies, to run an ad campaign designed to endow the fraud-ridden smartphone giveaway with appeal to conservatives.
Bennett refused to address the Obama phones advocacy until confronted by this reporter at his office in 2014. Then he took some decidedly non-conservative positions in justifying his acceptance of the money. He said conservatives who want to rein in welfare must “hate poor people.”
“Of course I support these programs, because I don’t hate poor people,” he told the Washington Examiner.
“As conservatives, we can’t hate Obama so badly that we hate something just because he put his name next to it. If it were called ‘Obama food stamps,’ would conservatives want to do away with them?” Bennett asked.
Bennett and TracFone both refused to say in 2014 what the funding mechanism was for PWUA.
David Williams, president of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance non-profit advocacy group, said “Wow. Just wow. Big government money ensnares a lot of people.”
After Saturday’s meeting, Trump tweeted that Slim was a “great guy,” a sudden change since Trump has talked about keeping U.S. dollars in America, and criticized Slim in the past. Slim is a wealthy and highly diversified businessman, so the two men could have been talking about other topics.
Of the business interests that Slim has before the federal government, Obama phones is a major one, and one that has been the subject of a massive special-interest push to fend of accusations of fraud. The program is so poorly administered, for example, that in Maryland, twice as many people had Obama phones than are officially classified as poor.
Bennett told Politico that Slim was not yet “an official client” of his new firm, though he would like him to be. “It’s possible he becomes a client, and it’s possible he doesn’t,” he said.
Politico missed the Obama phones connection but said the lobbying firm “could undermine Trump’s campaign pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ by reducing the power of lobbyists” and that the men “could take advantage of their relationship with Trump as they pursue their own outside business interests.”
Bennett refused to tell TheDCNF this week whether boosting the Lifeline program would be a top agenda item if Avenue Strategies is hired.
TracFone did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment on what Slim discussed with Trump.
Bennett played a role in Ben Carson’s failed campaign before beginning to advise Trump. The web site for Bennett’s previous firm, BKM Strategies, which he shared with Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary Cheney, has disappeared.
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