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Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior

As Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Todd Willens “work[s] closely” with Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.

Todd Willens, who has a well-documented history of opposing the Endangered Species Act, began his career on Capitol Hill working in the office of notorious anti-environmentalist Representative Richard Pombo, where he held various positions up to Legislative Director. In 2000, Willens went through the revolving door to work as the “lead lobbyist” for Feld Entertainment, where he “lobbied against animal welfare-rules.” In 2003, Willens returned to Capitol Hill to work as senior policy director of the House Natural Resources Committee. Starting in August 2006, Willens served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for George W. Bush’s Interior Department, where he fought against endangered species listings for wolves and manatees and had the Everglades removed from a United Nations list of endangered sites. After being accused “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species,” Willens left Interior, and went to work as a lobbyist at Washington Strategies, where he promptly began lobbying the Interior Department he had just left. Starting in January 2009, Willens began to work as a lobbyist at Vitello Consulting, a “full-service government affairs consulting firm” that assists clients whose “interests intersect with the United States Congress, federal agencies, foreign governments, and international regulatory organizations,” and that boasts clients including the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, the Rare Species Fund, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, among others. From 2010 to 2017, he served as Chief of Staff for Representative Steve Pearce.

Sources: [Department of the Interior, Press Release, 07/12/17, Greg Lennes, “Letter: Lobbyists for Pearce,” Deming Headlight, 12/21/11, LinkedIn Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Legistorm Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Josh Harkinson, “Richard Pombo Rides Again!Mother Jones, 01/06/10, Rocky Barker and Roger Phillips, “Feds to give states control of wolves; Ending endangered species protection could give hunters a shot at predators by 2008,” Idaho Statesman, 12/20/08, “Manatee Protections to be Cut Under Bush Plan,” The CVN, 04/01/07, Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17, City of Gillette, Wyoming 2008 Second Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, North Central Montana Regional Water Authority 2008 First Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, “About,” Vitello Consulting, accessed 08/29/17, and “Our Clients,” Vitello Consulting, accessed 08/29/17]

Special Interests

Jack Abramoff (Political Extremism)

Willens was part of a "group of congressional staffers who visited the Mariana Islands on a trip paid by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

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Ducks Unlimited (Protecting Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by Ducks Unlimited, the "world's largest and most effective private waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization."

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also connected to:

Safari Club International (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by SCI, an organization that has ties to the oil and gas industry and that is "behind the killings of tens of thousands of animals, including those on the brink of extinction.

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American Forest Resource Council (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by the American Forest Resource Council, a trade organization for western timber companies that has spent $3.7 million lobbying the federal government.

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also connected to:

Northern California Power Agency (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by NCPA, a 16-member not-for-profit agency of publicly owned entities that "operates and maintains a fleet of power plants" and has a "mix of geothermal, hydroelectric, and natural gas resources."

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also connected to:

Chevron (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,000 of stock in the multinational Chevron Corporation, a conglomerate with oil, natural gas, and LNG production and exploration operations.

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Energy Transfer Partners (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. One of the largest stocks in AMLP-Alerian is Energy Transfer Partners.

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Enterprise Products Partners (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. One of the largest stocks in AMLP-Alerian is Enterprise Products Partners.

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also connected to:

MPLX (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. One of the largest stocks in AMLP-Alerian is MPLX.

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also connected to:

Plains All American Pipeline (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. One of the largest stocks in AMLP-Alerian is Plains All American Pipeline.

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also connected to:

Williams Partners (Resource Development on Public Lands)

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. One of the largest stocks in AMLP-Alerian is Williams Partners.

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also connected to:

Background Information

Previous Employers

Representative Richard Pombo, United States House of Representatives

Feld Entertainment Inc. 

House Natural Resources Committee, United States House of Representatives

United States Department of the Interior

Mariposa Group

Washington Strategies LLC 

Vitello Consulting

VC International 

Representative Steve Pearce, United States House of Representatives

Additional Background on Employers of Note:

When he worked for Richard Pombo, Todd “Willens aided the former California congressman in his attempts to undermine the Endangered Species Act by promoting private property rights above all.”

[Katharine Mieszkowski, “No bears for oil,” Salon, 01/17/08]

Todd Willens lobbied against animal welfare-rules.

Todd Willens, from January 2000 to January 2002, was the “lead lobbyist” for Feld Entertainment, which at the time was the “owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.” While at Feld Entertainment, Willens “lobbied against animal-welfare rules.”

[LinkedIn Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Adam Satarino, “People on the Move,” CQ, 05/15/03, and Keturah Hetrick, “Endangered Species Act foe takes top Interior post,” Legistorm, 07/06/17]

When he worked for the Bush administration’s Interior Department, Todd Willens fought against endangered species listings for wolves and manatees, and also, contrary to the National Park Service’s recommendation, had the Everglades removed from a United Nations list of endangered sites.

In 2006, Todd Willens, when he was “assistant Interior Secretary for fish, wildlife and parks,” sought to “remove wolves from the endangered species list in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.”

[Rocky Barker and Roger Phillips, “Feds to give states control of wolves; Ending endangered species protection could give hunters a shot at predators by 2008,” Idaho Statesman, 12/20/08]

In 2007, when he was a “newly appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks,” Todd Willens led “an effort to downgrade protection for manatees.” Willens “shepherd[ed]” a plan to “‘downlist'” the [Florida] manatee from its… ‘endangered’ status to ‘threatened’ under the Federal Endangered Species Act.”

[Editorial Board, “Stop Stalking Sea Cows,” Palm Beach Post, 04/13/07, and “Manatee Protections to be Cut Under Bush Plan,” The CVN, 04/01/07]

In 2007, Todd Willens “recommended that UNESCO remove the Everglades” from “a United Nations list of endangered sites.” Willens told the U.N. World Heritage Committee “that the National Park Service wanted the Glades taken off the endangered list…. despite a recommendation to the contrary from the Park Service.”

The United Nations “acquiesced to Willens’ request, and the Everglades was removed” from the UN list of endangered sites. Florida Senator Bill Nelson “called a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee… to investigate” Willens’ removal of Everglades from a list of endangered sites.

[John Heilprin, “Everglades Decision Criticized,” Associated Press, 08/03/07, Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17, and Editorial, “Highly endangered; Everglades loses a layer of protection,” Bradenton Herald, 08/08/07]

While he worked in George W. Bush’s Interior Department, Todd Willens was accused “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species.”

Julie MacDonald resigned from the Interior Department “in May 2007, after Interior’s inspector general found that she may have skewed 11 ESA rules for the benefit of oil and natural gas producers and other industry sectors.” In 2008, “after investigating a Fish and Wildlife review of McDonald’s decisions,” the Government Accountability Office “accused” Willens “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species.” Willens “denied the allegation, and left the Interior Department of his [own] accord later in 2008.”

[Derek Sands, “Political tampering with ESA decisions may be more widespread, GAO says,” Inside Energy, 05/26/08, and Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17]

Todd Willens lobbied the Department of the Interior immediately after he stopped working for the Department of the Interior.

In 2008 Todd Willens, while at Washington Strategies LLC, lobbied the Department of the Interior on behalf of the City of Gillette, Wyoming and on behalf of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority.

[City of Gillette, Wyoming 2008 Second Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, and North Central Montana Regional Water Authority 2008 First Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17]

Political Connections

Todd Willens, since 2001, has donated at least $3,000 to Republican politicians.

[Political Moneyline Search for Todd Willens, CQ, accessed 08/29/17]

Current Activity

  • Feld Entertainment

From 2000 to 2002, Todd Willens was Vice-President of Government Relations for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Willens is now the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department, and from July 18 to September 30, 2017, he was also the Acting Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In this position, he supervised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Todd Willens, who has been described as an “Endangered Species Act foe,” from January 2000 to January 2002 was the Vice President of Government Relations for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. While at Feld Entertainment, Willens “lobbied against animal-welfare rules.” Willens began working in Trump’s Interior Department in July 2017.

[Keturah Hetrick, “Endangered Species Act foe takes top Interior post,” Legistorm, 07/06/17, Legistorm Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 12/18/17, and Department of Interior, Press Release, 07/12/17]

On July 18, 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a Secretarial Order “to temporarily redelegate authority” for “Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks to Todd Willens, Assistant Deputy Secretary.” In this capacity, Willens was serving as the Acting Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks and was responsible for “exercis[ing] secretarial direction and supervision over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.” According to the order, Willens’ authority as Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks lasted until September 30, 2017.

[“Order No. 3345, Amendment No. 6,” Department of the Interior accessed via cayuganation.gov, 07/18/17, and “Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior,” Our Public Service, accessed 12/18/17]

After Ringing Bros and Barnum & Bailey closed in May 2017, Feld Entertainment applied for an Endangered Species Permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to export fifteen big cats to their original owner in Germany.

After Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus closed in May 2017, fifteen of the companies trained big cats—lions, tigers and one leopard, were “awaiting permanent new homes.” Feld Entertainment, Ringling Bros.’ parent company, applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for an Endangered Species Permit, asking USFWS “for permission to send the captive-bred animals back to Germany to their owner and original trainer, Alexander Lacey.”

[Michael Doyle, “Where do the big cats prowl when the circus closes?Energy & Environment, 07/21/17]

“Import and export permits for endangered species are issued by the Division of Management Authority,” which is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Division of Management Authority “works under the Endangered Species Act to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats.”

[Kristin James, “Feld Entertainment applies for permit to send tigers to German circus,” Orlando Weekly, 05/26/17, and “Division of Management Authority,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accessed 12/18/17]

Feld Entertainment’s application said that, if the permit was granted, the animals would be “involved in public exhibition,” upon their return to Germany. The application “kicked off a furious debate,” and most of the comments posted on the Federal Register website “beg[ged] FWS not to grant the permit.”

The application noted that “‘prior to coming to the United States, these animals were involved in public exhibition and education in Europe and they will do so again upon their return to Germany.'” If the animals were returned to Germany, they would “be confined to 215 square feet for every four animals.”

[Michael Doyle, “Where do the big cats prowl when the circus closes?Energy & Environment, 07/21/17]

Feld Entertainment’s application “kicked off a furious debate.” Over 100,000 comments were “posted on the Federal Register website, most begging the FWS not to grant the permit.” If the animals were returned to Germany, they would ” be confined to 215 square feet for every four animals.”

[Emily Atkin, “For Sale: Endangered Tigers. Will Perform for Food,” New Republic, 07/03/17, and Michael Doyle, “Where do the big cats prowl when the circus closes?Energy & Environment, 07/21/17]

On August 18, 2017, while Todd Willens was the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks and as such was overseeing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS “granted Feld a permit to re-export the big cats.”

On August 18, 2017, shortly after Secretary Zinke had assigned Todd Willens Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was under Willens’ supervision, “granted Feld a permit to re-export the big cats.”

[Michael Doyle, “Feds join inquiry into shooting of Suzy the circus tiger,” Greenwire, 09/12/17]

Financials

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, Willens owns between $1,001 and $15,00 of stock in AMLP-Alerian, an exchange-traded fund made up of energy stocks. Some of the top fund holdings in AMLP-Alerian are Energy Transfer Partners, Enterprise Products Partners, Magellan Midstream Partners, MPLX, Plains All American Pipeline, and Williams Partners.

[Todd Willens, OGE Form, 2017; “AMLP: Top Fund Holdings,” Bloomberg, accessed 03/12/18]

According to his 2017 financial disclosure, in 2016 Willens was paid $3,000 for “Consulting work” for People for Pearce, anti-public lands Congressman Steve Pearce’s campaign.

[Todd Willens, OGE Form, 2017; Home, Pearce for US Congress, accessed 03/12/18]

Financial Disclosure

[Office of Government Ethics]

Department of the Interior salary: $170,000

[Todd D. Willens, ProPublica’s Trump Town, accessed 03/14/18]

Other Information

In 1997, Todd Willens “was among a group of congressional staffers who visited the Mariana Islands on a trip paid by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.”

[John Heilprin, “Everglades Decision Criticized,” Associated Press, 08/03/07 and Erica Werner, “AP Exclusive: Records suggest Abramoff, Pombo lobbying contacts,” Associated Press, 10/10/06]

Todd Willens is married to Morna Willens, who was Vice President of lobbying firm Glover Park Group and who has lobbied on behalf of Fuels America, “a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and promoting homegrown biofuels.”

[Legistorm Profile for Morna Willens, accessed 08/28/17, and “About,” Fuels America, accessed 08/28/17]