OF THE three resounding slogans of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—the pledges to “build a wall”, “lock her up” and “drain the swamp”—none has come to fruition. To be fair, none could be enacted by executive fiat alone. A border wall would require appropriations from Congress. Hillary Clinton could be jailed only by a stubbornly independent justice system. On the business of swamp-draining, however, there is much that the executive branch could do on its own. Yet Washington remains as boggy as ever.

Lobbyists are a hardy species, capable of surviving both the lean years of gridlock and the feeding frenzies of unified government. They thrive when policy is in flux, preserving old perks and pushing for new ones. “The honest answer is that the influence industry grew almost as much in Trump’s first year as it did in Obama’s,” says one long-time lobbyist. Not all lobbying activity in 2017 has yet been reported—but it may well be the most profitable to date, given the flurry of activity around the passage of the tax bill in December, which was a swampy affair. The bill was crafted in secret and rushed through; Democratic senators had to receive their copies, with some amendments handwritten, from lobbying firms instead of from their Republican colleagues. Although Mr Trump had promised to close the loophole for carried-interest on private-equity investments, that one survived. The bill was plump with new goodies: alcohol excise taxes were cut by 16%, for example.

Part of the problem lies in congressional incapacity. Under a more normal administration, the White House would set a clear policy agenda and Congress would respond. Mr Trump has largely abrogated this role. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, supposedly once said that the president will “sign anything we put in front of him”. As well as managing their fractious backbenchers, Republican leaders must also juggle policy-crafting. Their ability to do so has been diminished by a long-term decline in the number of employees in agencies like the Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service and Congressional Budget Office, which are charged with providing unbiased information to members. Their staff numbers have fallen by 40% since 1979. Within Congress, low salaries ensure that staffers remain young and inexperienced: more than half are under 30. In the House of Representatives, the typical legislative director, a senior post, is only 31, according to data crunched for The Economist by Legistorm, a congressional monitoring service. Experienced staffers are often poached by lobbying firms, where they can enjoy higher salaries and still be called on to assist their younger colleagues with the difficult task of writing law.

But even within the executive branch, over which Mr Trump has complete control, little has been done to clean house. From the start, the “beachhead teams” designed to oversee federal agencies soon after the inauguration were full of ex-lobbyists. The senior ranks of the administration are stuffed with former lobbyists. Former denizens of Trumpland, like Corey Lewandowski, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, and Roger Stone, a former adviser, swiftly returned to lobbying. Public Citizen, a watchdog group, has identified 44 people connected to Mr Trump and Mike Pence, the vice-president, who have registered as lobbyists, generating $42m in billings. Foreign countries seem especially keen to hire them.

Regulatory action rarely seems to go against business interests. Energy firms could have no better friend than Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has zealously overturned rules in their favour. All the while transparency initiatives, like the publication of White House visitor logs, have been rolled back. Mr Trump’s personal conflicts of interest are hard to know given his refusal to release his tax returns. Populist governance this is not.

Presidents of all stripes have pledged to tackle influence-peddling, usually with little success. Barack Obama’s attempts to halt the revolving door between public office and private gain were ineffective. Because America has a well-developed market for influence, supply-side restrictions issued by the White House are unlikely to fix matters. For Mr Trump, this need not be a hindrance: he is sure to boast that he has drained the swamp in 2020 anyway.