As a mega-lobbyist, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist and lawyer on behalf of extractive industries, water districts and numerous other entities that stand to benefit from his decisions at Interior.
Westlands Water District is one such entity that has materially benefited from Bernhardt’s work as a lobbyist and later a public official, a conflict of interest that was the subject of a recent New York Times expose, entitled: “Top Leader at Interior Dept. Pushes a Policy Favoring His Former Client.”
On May 4, 2017, Western Values Project (WVP) submitted three public records requests to Westlands regarding communications with Bernhardt. To date, not one of the requests has been fulfilled.
“It is not just one, but nearly two years since these public records requests were filed seeking important information about Trump’s ex-lobbyist pick to manage our public lands and water,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “Westlands is clearly violating California law by delaying or withholding information that the public has the right to know prior to Bernhardt’s hearing to lead Interior. In the interest of transparency and assuring the American people that there is nothing improper, Westlands should immediately fulfill these long overdue public records requests.”
Westlands is the largest agricultural district in the country according to their website and has water delivered to producers through the Central Valley Project (CVP), a federal water project. The District is a local-government entity formed in 1952 which makes it subject to California’s Public Records Act (CPRA).
Lobby records show that Bernhardt worked on behalf of the district until at least the end of 2016 and was on a $20,000-a-month retainer. Emails obtained by Campaign for Accountability show that Bernhardt had continued advising the district until some time in 2017, prompting a request for an investigation by the group. Within four months of his confirmation as Interior Deputy Secretary, it was reported that Bernhardt pushed for a decision that would be beneficial for his former client.
WVP filed three requests (see below) seeking communications related to Bernhardt, his former lobby firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck, and other internal communications within the water district. The original requests were filled prior to the Senate’s consideration of Bernhardt for the deputy secretary post and sought expedited process so the public may understand Mr. Bernhardt’s role and activities with the Westlands Water District in order to better advise their elected representatives regarding Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination.’