When President Biden flew to Detroit last month to highlight his infrastructure plans for a new network of electric car-charging stations, a White House official announced on Air Force One that senior counselor Steve Ricchetti had stayed behind to negotiate the bill with Republicans.
Left unmentioned was that Ricchetti’s brother, Jeff Ricchetti, was also working on the infrastructure bill as a lobbyist for General Motors, hired to push funding for charging stations in the House, in the Senate and at the Commerce Department, according to federal documents.
The separate efforts by one of Biden’s most influential advisers and his brother, with whom he partnered in a lobbying firm until 2012, had been popping up for weeks on the radar of White House ethics lawyers, who are charged with fulfilling Biden’s promise to “restore ethics in government.”
They required Steve Ricchetti to recuse himself from involvement with “particular matters” for four companies that paid his brother to lobby Biden’s executive office — pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline, Vaxart and Horizon Therapeutics, as well as TC Energy, the company that oversaw the now-canceled Keystone XL pipeline project — according to a White House official briefed on the arrangement.
But under White House ethics guidance, Jeff Ricchetti’s work with GM did not trigger a recusal for his brother — because his lobbying targeted a Cabinet agency and not the Executive Office of the President and because the issue of electric charging stations applied broadly to the car industry and was not considered a matter specific to the company, according to the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
The booming business and political influence of the Ricchetti brothers have served as an early test case of just how far Biden will go to make good on his promise to turn the page on the Trump administration’s approach to ethics. Biden has vowed to ban his own family from involvement in government, disclose records of White House visitors and support new legislation that would expand the definition of lobbying and mandate more-detailed disclosure of contacts with White House officials.