DemCast is proud to be a supporter of the Executive Branch Comprehensive Ethics Enforcement Act which will be introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal. The provisions of this bill, which will reform the Office of Government Ethics are detailed in Sen. Blumenthal’s letter to his colleagues below:
The Trump administration shattered our government ethics norms. Reform must start now, and it must start with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). The OGE is charged with monitoring ethics compliance at federal agencies and the White House, but its efficacy is limited as the agency may only act in an advisory capacity. The Executive Branch Comprehensive Ethics Enforcement Act gives the OGE to the tools it needs to ensure that the President, cabinet officials, and senior appointees cannot abuse public resources for private benefit, ignore their obligation to avoid conflicts of interest, and evade accountability. I write to invite you to become an original co-sponsor of the bill when I reintroduce it this Congress.
Last Congress, the bill was co-sponsored by Senators Hirono, Klobuchar, Udall, Whitehouse, and Duckworth. It will be reintroduced without changes this Congress. The bill is supported by Public Citizen, American Oversight, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Clean Elections Texas, Common Cause, Demand Progress, DemCast USA, Democracy 21, Equal Justice Society, Friends of the Earth, Government Accountability Project (GAP), International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), Open the Government, Network for Responsible Public Policy, Represent.Us New Mexico, Stand Up America, and The Workers Circle. The bill is also supported by a wide range of experts, including former Ambassador Norman Eisen, who served as President Obama’s special counsel for ethics and government reform, Richard Painter, who served as President George W. Bush’s special counsel for ethics, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, and American University Professor and ethics researcher James A. Thurber.
The stunning lack of accountability for ethics failures during the Trump administration underscores the urgent need for this bill. Several of former President Trump’s cabinet officials held positions of public trust despite troubling financial conflicts. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross retained investments in a company that conducted millions of dollars of business with a Russian energy company that had close ties to Vladimir Putin and a Venezuelan state oil company under U.S. sanctions. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/news/2017/01/27/297572/inside-the-financial-holdings-of-billionaire-betsy-devos/">https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-postsecondary/news/2017/01/27/297572/inside-the-financial-holdings-of-billionaire-betsy-devos/Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a financial stake in a company that operates a chain of for-profit colleges. Former Center for Disease Control Director Brenda Fitzgerald—whose job involved fighting public health threats like tobacco products—was forced to resign after it was publicly reported that she bought shares in tobacco companies one month into her job. Marc Short, then the chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, and Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the former chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, held stock in companies whose values were tied to development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Previous Presidents divested themselves of their business interests or put their assets in a blind trust, managed by a third party, over which they had no control. Former President Trump, however, repeatedly broke with ethics norms, continuing to retain full ownership of his real estate and branding companies while in office. Trump placed his ownership interest in a trust and handed the day-to-day operational-management duties over to his sons, but was still reportedly involved in managing the day-to-day operation of his business. Ivanka Trump received approval for three new trademarks for her brand in China on the same day she dined, in her official capacity as a White House advisor, with China’s president Xi Jinping. Jared Kushner, a senior policy advisor and son-in-law to President Trump, failed to disclose his real estate holdings to ethics officials.According to a recent review of his financial disclosures, Donald Trump reported making more than $1.6 billion in outside revenue and income during his four years as President. As the New York Times reported, the former president “transplanted favor-seeking in Washington to his family’s hotels and resorts—and earned millions as a gatekeeper to his own administration.” These repeated ethics violations created a disturbing sense that Trump and his family were using their time in the White House to enrich themselves.
As the unchecked ethics violations of the Trump administration make clear, mere norms are not sufficient to safeguard government ethics. America desperately needs a stronger ethics oversight and enforcement regime. This legislation will empower the OGE to ensure compliance with ethics laws and regulations. This bill remedies the glaring deficiencies in federal ethics enforcement by:
- Making the OGE director removable only for-cause: The bill would insulate the Director of OGE from political interference or retaliation by requiring cause to remove the Director before the end of his or her existing five-year term.
- Strengthening OGE’s investigatory power: The bill would strengthen OGE’s authority by granting the Director the ability to request subpoenas from a federal court in order to gather necessary information and conduct formal investigations.
- Giving the OGE enforcement authority with appropriate due process protections: When a federal employee fails to comply with ethics rules or regulations, the bill would authorize OGE to order corrective actions (such as divestiture, blind trusts, and recusal) and impose appropriate administrative penalties (such as reprimand, suspension, or dismissal). The bill would protect the rights of executive branch personnel by allowing any individual subject to an investigation or corrective action to demand a formal hearing.
- Centralizing ethics officers’ work at the OGE: The bill would preserve agency ethics officers as the first-line authority to interpret and enforce the ethics laws, but requires those agency ethics officials to report to the OGE about the status of compliance with federal ethics laws.
- Authorizing OGE to report findings to Congress: The bill would authorize the OGE to report its findings directly to Congress, bringing it on par with other agencies like the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
- Extending OGE’s rules and regulations to the White House: The bill would clarify that the scope of OGE’s rules and regulations extend to White House personnel as well as executive branch agencies.
- Establishing OGE as the repository of ethics records: The bill would establish the OGE as the central repository for ethics records deemed public information by law or by the Director, and make these records available online in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.
Please join me by co-sponsoring this vital legislation to strengthen transparency and accountability across the Executive Branch and helps restore public confidence in government. If you would like to become a cosponsor or have any questions, please contact Lauren_Moxley_Beatty@judiciary-dem.senate.gov.
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