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MLB hires Trump-allied lobbying for guidance on ‘trafficking’ of Cuban baseball players

In Cuba, baseball has been a central part of Cuban life. Young kids playing stick ball in the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Justin Solomon | CNBC

Major League Baseball has hired a lobbying firm with ties to President Donald Trump to help solve what it calls the “trafficking” of Cuban baseball players.

Brian Ballard, one of Trump’s top fundraisers in Florida during the 2016 presidential election, is registered as a lobbyist for the league as it pertains to “issues related to combating human trafficking,” according to a new disclosure form. A spokesman for the league tells CNBC that Ballard and his firm were hired “for guidance on finding a solution that ends the human trafficking of Cuban baseball players.”

The move by MLB, one of the wealthiest professional sports leagues in the world, to bring on Ballard and his managing partner Sylvester Lukis — a former director of the Cuban-Haitian Task Force at the State Department — comes a month after the Trump administration nixed a deal that would have made it easier for Cuban ballplayers to come play in the United States.

In a letter dated April 5, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control declared “payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation are not authorized, ” because, they argued, doing so would be financing the Cuban government.

Representatives for the Treasury and Ballard did not immediately return requests for comment from CNBC.

Ballard is considered one of the most powerful lobbyists in the country. In 2017, he was placed on Politico’s power list, and in an interview with the publication he told Republicans going into the congressional midterms that they must rally around the president.

“You have to embrace the Trump presidency,” he said at the time.

Since Trump became president, the firm has seen its income skyrocket, especially in 2018 when it brought in $18.3 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Ballard and his team have a range of high-end clients, including Amazon, Boeing and Dish Network.

Recent lobbying disclosure reports show that Ballard has reached out to the White House Office, which is headed by the chief of staff.

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