CNN’s Sean Duffy joins leading lobbying firm, creating untold conflicts of interest for the network

An image of Sean Duffy

Citation Ceci Freed / Media Matters

CNN political commentator and former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) is taking a senior position at BGR Group, a leading lobbying firm that’s already worked for more than 100 clients this year. Duffy’s new job creates untold conflicts of interest for the network, which has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to handle its commentators’ ethical issues. 

Duffy joined CNN last month and quickly embarrassed himself and his new employer by pushing a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election and smearing Army Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a witness in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Duffy is the latest in a long line of CNN commentators whom the network pays to defend Trump. 

Politico reported today that Duffy will become a lobbyist and senior counsel for BGR Group and that “he plans to advise financial services companies, trade associations and their members.” According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, BGR has already banked roughly $21 million in lobbying income this year, which places them third among the top lobbying firms. BGR has received over $200 million since 1998. 

BGR lobbied for the Saudi government, whose agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. BGR later dropped the government as a client. The firm currently employs Kurt Volker as senior international advisor; Volker has been a key figure in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. 

This year so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the firm has had 142 lobbying clients. They include defense contractors such as Airbus and Huntington Ingalls Industries; energy companies such as Chevron and Southern Co.; pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer and Eli Lilly; and foreign governments such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, and Somalia. BGR’s financial services clients include Credit Suisse Securities, Franklin Resources, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, and the Mid-Sized Bank Coalition of America. Numerous other companies could be contracting BGR’s services for non-lobbying work that does not require filing government disclosures. 

In other words, Duffy now has a countless amount of conflicts of interest as a paid CNN commentator. 

CNN has previously failed when it comes to disclosing the conflicts of interest of fellow pro-Trump CNN commentator David Urban, who is the president of the lobbying firm American Continental Group. CNN did not disclose Urban’s lobbying conflicts of interest when he discussed topics such as military issues, environmental protections, and tax policy

For instance, Urban has repeatedly urged Congress to pass a trade agreement favored by President Donald Trump without the network disclosing that he’s being paid by a Trump-aligned group to lobby for the passage of the agreement. Urban also urged attacking Iran without the network telling viewers that he lobbies for defense contractors. 

BGR founding partner Ed Rogers was previously a contributing opinion writer for The Washington Post and frequently wrote about topics in which he had a conflict of interest. The publication's opinion editor told Media Matters last month that it had sidelined him ahead of the 2020 election.