By Tory Newmyer
March 9, 2017

Carl Icahn just tore a page from the Trump playbook. The legendary investor serving as the president’s informal deregulatory czar is facing heat for pushing a policy shift that’s already benefited one of his holdings. Icahn doesn’t deny the essential facts. He is a majority owner of CVR Energy, a Texas refiner that would see a burden lifted under his proposal to restructure a federal biofuel program; and his stake surged $126 million last week on news of the deal he brokered (gains it’s since given back). But on Wednesday, when the left-leaning watchdog Public Citizen lodged a complaint with the House and Senate accusing him of failing to file a lobbying registration, Icahn went on the attack. The complaint, he wrote in an online op-ed, amounted to “fake news,” suggesting instead an investigation “to uncover the dark forces behind this witch hunt.” He floated the possibility that the watchdog’s objection had been funded “by those seeking to smear President Donald Trump.”

Public Citizen exists to criticize corporate influence on government. In this case, the group’s charge is straightforward. Last summer, while Icahn was leaning on the Environmental Protection Agency to tweak the biofuel program, he was also advising the Trump campaign, which briefly posted and then removed from its website a policy statement echoing the investor’s position. Trump wasn’t an elected official then, so whatever Icahn was doing behind the scenes to get the campaign to adopt his line didn’t count as lobbying, as far as the federal lobbying disclosure law is concerned. But the law dictates that if Icahn or his company have pressed the point with senior Trump officials more than once since the inauguration, they should have registered. That seems likely, considering Icahn himself vetted Trump’s EPA pick, talking to Scott Pruitt “four or five times” by his count.

The lobbying statute is lightly policed and rarely enforced. But Icahn should know better. Records show his company spent more than $1 million over the last decade lobbying the feds on a range of issues. And since last summer, a group he formed with Bill Ackman of Pershing Square, Paul Singer of Elliott Associates, Daniel Loeb of Third Point, and Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners spent $350,000 to sell policymakers on giving activist investors more power. The information required for most quarterly lobbying reports could fit on a postcard. Icahn is choosing a different tack. “I have been maligned many times in the press over the years fighting the establishment but I have never shied away from following my convictions,” he wrote Wednesday. “I don’t intend to start now.”

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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