Pro-Trump CNN commentator used network to push lobbying client without disclosure to viewers

CNN’s pro-Trump contributors continue to damage the network’s journalism brand

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

During a recent prime-time appearance, CNN political commentator David Urban touted the National Association of Home Builders' opposition to the current GOP tax reform bill. Neither Urban nor the network mentioned that NAHB is his lobbying client, and that it hired him specifically to lobby on tax reform.

Urban is a former Trump campaign adviser who is now the president of the American Continental Group (ACG), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm with dozens of clients (and potential conflicts of interest with his CNN work). ACG touts Urban's CNN position to current and potential clients in the first paragraph of his profile on its website, stating that he is “a political commentator on CNN and can be seen almost daily on a variety of the network’s programming.“

Urban appeared on Anderson Cooper 360’s November 7 coverage of that day’s election results and brought up the National Association of Home Builders unprompted, stating:

DAVID URBAN: The tax bill will rise or fall under its own weight. Now the president has nothing to do with it. You see the National Association of Home Builders, NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], coming against the tax bill, traditional Republican stalwarts who support the party opposing this bill. This bill has serious problems. It will rise or fall on its own merits. The president has nothing to do with it.

CNN and Urban did not disclose that he is a lobbyist for NAHB on that very issue. The association has paid ACG $150,000 this year to lobby on “tax reform,” among other issues, according to federal records.

In a recent report on the fight over tax reform, The New York Times described NAHB as an “influential and often Republican-aligned” group that’s working to shape tax reform legislation. Back in September, the NAHB said that it was “enthusiastically backing” Trump’s tax plan because it would offer “incentives for home mortgage interest and cutting the rate for pass-through businesses to 25 percent from as high as 39.6 percent.” Recently, however, the association’s leaders said they couldn’t back the Republicans’ latest bill because GOP leaders “wouldn’t accept an idea home builders and lawmakers had been working on: repealing the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes and replacing them with a new tax credit,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Urban has also used his CNN position to push for reducing the “tax burden” on “American companies.” During the October 27 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Urban stated: “I think there is a sense of urgency to free up some money for American workers, American companies to bring money back home and invest in their company. So, there's a great need. The tax burden is too great on American working class folks and American companies, want to try to get some parity with the rest of the world." His lobbying for clients on taxes weren't disclosed to viewers during that segment (Note: Sentence added after posting for clarity.)

According to federal records, in addition to NAHB, Urban has lobbied for numerous companies and organizations on taxes this year, including Comcast Corporation, the National Retail Federation, and Walgreen.

CNN and Urban did not respond to requests for comment. 

Urban is also a lobbyist for CNN parent company Time Warner on copyright and trademark issues, the “Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2017,” and “general” media issues. AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner but the Justice Department has yet to approve that deal.

Media Matters and other observers have commented on how CNN’s paid pro-Trump commentators have been a headache for the network and contributed to a carnival atmosphere instead of reliable coverage.