A former lobbyist for Taser International was quietly appointed to serve as the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency earlier this month, according to a report by The Intercept.
For more than a decade, Thomas Blank served as a corporate lobbyist, helping to secure federal contracts for companies such as Taser, now known as Axon, which sells non-lethal electroshock weapons and body cameras. His efforts netted one lobbying firm at least $100,000 for lobbying efforts aimed at the Department of Homeland Security — the agency under which ICE, his new employer, operates.
According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, Blank’s lobbying efforts in the third quarter of 2008 netted his employer, Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates, a $50,000 payout. The client in that disclosure is listed as Taser International, and the “specific lobbying issue” dealt with the “use of less lethal technologies/ electronic control devices by Homeland Security agencies.”
A few months later, in the fourth quarter of 2008, another disclosure form names Blank and outlines another $50,000 payout for Wexler and Walker for the same client dealing with the same lobbying issue – also aimed at the Department of Homeland Security. A disclosure from 2007 details a $120,000 payout to Wexler and Walker from Taser, but does not name Blank specifically.
Net income for Taser International was at $3.4 million at the end of 2008. Axon finished 2016 with a net income of $17.3 million, and boasted that “35 of the 68 major city law enforcement agencies have purchased TASER’s Axon body-worn cameras and/or its digital evidence management solution.”
While working for Wexler and Walker, Blank “established the firm’s growing Homeland Security Practice by building a base of clients with policy and business development interests on Capitol Hill, in The White House, and before the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation,” according to a summary on his LinkedIn page.
In his new role at ICE, Blank will coordinate “policy implementation with senior leadership throughout ICE to guide the agency toward reaching its homeland security and public safety objectives,” according to the agency’s website.
Blank’s LinkedIn page says he’s been working at the agency since April. ICE Assistant Director for Public Affairs Liz Johnson said his appointment was finalized on July 12.
She said Blank’s prior lobbying work does not constitute a conflict of interest. “Since Mr. Blank did not represent clients with ICE interests and never lobbied the agency, there are no conflict of interest concerns with Mr. Blank’s former employment,” she told The Intercept.
For nine months in the late 1990’s, Blank served as the Communications Director for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. He also worked in several leadership positions within the Transportation Security Administration in the early 2000’s. Blank helped “build the agency from the ground up in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks,” according the ICE website.