Brother of top Biden advisor lobbied Executive Office of the President on behalf of GM

Key Points
  • Jeff Ricchetti lobbied the National Security Council on behalf of General Motors in the second quarter, a lobbying report says.
  • The report shows that Jeff Ricchetti, who is the brother of top Biden advisor Steve Ricchetti, engaged with the NSC for the car-making giant on "issues related to China."
  • This is the latest example of Ricchetti getting access into the Biden White House since his brother officially became a senior advisor to the commander in chief.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, July 20, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The brother of one of President Joe Biden's closest advisors lobbied members of the National Security Council for General Motors in the second quarter, according to a new disclosure report reviewed by CNBC.

The report shows that Jeff Ricchetti, brother of White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, engaged with the NSC for the car-making giant on "issues related to China." The company paid Ricchetti $60,000 last quarter for his lobbying services.

Jeff Ricchetti's work to lobby the NSC, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, comes as he tries to publicly distance his work from his brother, who, among other items, helped secure an infrastructure deal between the White House and senior lawmakers.

The NSC is chaired by the president himself, and the council's meetings can be attended by the vice president, the secretary of State, the Treasury secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence, and other senior administration officials.

Ricchetti Inc., the firm Jeff and Steve Ricchetti founded together, had not lobbied the National Security Council until now, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Jeff Ricchetti said in an email to CNBC that he no longer lobbies the White House Office, which is currently led by Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain. He did not answer several other questions, including whom he spoke with at the National Security Council on behalf of GM, and specifically what he was lobbying about with regard to China.

There are several ways Ricchetti can access the White House without going through the White House Office, including the National Security Council.

GM initially did not return a request for comment. After publication, a spokeswoman for the company provided a statement to CNBC that didn't address the specifics of Jeff Ricchetti's work.

"Jeff Ricchetti among other lobbyists that are registered to advocate on our behalf help GM to advocate for policies that support our customers, dealers and employees, help strengthen our manufacturing presence in the United States and advance our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion," the spokeswoman said.

The company previously tried to convince the Trump administration to remove tariffs on its Buick Envision vehicle, which is made in China. The previous administration rejected that request. The GM spokeswoman noted that Ricchetti did not discuss tariffs with the NSC. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, along with other car executives, had held a virtual meeting with Biden to discuss a shortage of semiconductor chips.

The Biden administration has continued much of the China trade policies implemented under Trump, including extensive tariffs on Chinese exports.

The latest Ricchetti lobbying disclosure was a red flag for ethics experts. Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics under Obama and, for a short period of time, under President Donald Trump, told CNBC in an email on Monday that Steve Ricchetti could easily tell his brother to stop engaging with the Executive Office of the President in order to avoid ethics scrutiny.

"Jeff Ricchetti isn't a government official, so Steve Ricchetti can't control him, but he could at least publicly ask him to stop lobbying the Executive Office of the President," Shaub said. "That's probably too much to hope for from a man who appears to have turned this administration into an employment agency for his offspring, though."

Steve Ricchetti's son, J.J. Ricchetti, is among a handful of his children who have landed jobs in the Biden administration.

"What these people are doing makes it harder to get the public to care about government ethics. Shoot, it makes it harder to convince them that such a thing can even exist. Thanks for that, Ricchettis. Hope you enjoy the money," Shaub added.

A White House spokesman referred CNBC to the NSC, which did not return a request for comment.

White House advisor Steven Ricchetti is seen in Capitol on the day the senate will have a procedural vote on the For the People Act on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal reported that Jeff Ricchetti brought in almost $1.7 million in fees for the first half of 2021, more than four times the amount his firm was paid over the same period of time last year.

CNBC first reported in April that in the first quarter of 2021, Jeff Ricchetti lobbied the Executive Office of the President on behalf of major health-care companies.

Going into the new administration, ethics officials told CNBC that Steve Ricchetti himself would be under pressure to recuse himself from some matters that could link back to his brother's business. Steve Ricchetti did end up recusing himself from anything related to his brother or his extensive set of clients.

CNBC has also previously reported that Steve and Jeff Ricchetti do not discuss their separate professional careers.