Two Weeks In and the Swamp is Getting Deeper

Trump Flouts Ethical Standards He Promised to Strengthen

Posted by Jay Riestenberg on February 3, 2017


Ethics thumbnail for issue buckets

Two weeks after his inauguration, President Trump already is embracing the inside-the-beltway corruption he spent last year promising to destroy.

BuzzFeed recently reported that Trump’s controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, known for his extreme nationalist views and bare-knuckled political tactics, is courting big donors to fund a pro-Trump “independent” political group, America First, that doesn’t disclose its donors. What’s worse is that Bannon is doing this secret money fundraising while his salary is being paid by the American taxpayers.

Sadly, that’s not all. Before taking the Oath of Office, Trump promised Americans that he would separate his business interests from the White House; but rather than follow the example set by a bipartisan set of his predecessors by creating a blind trust to manage his holdings he retained ownership and hatched an unethical and inadequate plan to turn management of his companies over to his two adult sons.

Trump has tried to convince the American people and the media that this arrangement is a blind trust and that his sons will maintain a wall between his private business and public business. Just this week however, as the President revealed his Supreme Court nominee, his two sons were sitting in the front row and schmoozing with leaders of Congress. Trump’s business arrangement not only opens his presidency to ethical conflicts, it smacks of crony capitalism; he is giving a business that he owns and profits from privileged access to the federal government.

Trump’s recent executive order on lobbying also retreats from campaign promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington. While the order made some minor improvements in lobbying rules laid down by the Obama administration, it took larger steps backwards. For instance, Trump’s executive order reversed an Obama rule requiring the government to disclose how well it was complying with lobbying restrictions. The reversal will “significantly reduce transparency and accountability” in the executive branch said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. Trump’s order also loosened rules on hiring officials who have recently been registered lobbyists and opened other new loopholes.

On Thursday, President Trump reiterated his call to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which would allow churches to engage in partisan political activity while retaining their tax-exempt status. And because churches enjoy a tax classification that allows them to conceal their donors, repealing the amendment would only increase secret money in American politics.

President Trump’s cabinet nominees are also a depart from his “drain the swamp” promises. Many of his cabinet nominees, including Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, are major political donors. Mnuchin and Ross also have longstanding ties to Wall Street.

Other nominees, like Trump himself, are carrying major conflicts of interest. Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price has come under criticism for pushing legislation that would benefit a healthcare company in which he owned stock, while EPA nominee Scott Pruitt’s close connections to and funding from big oil and coal companies has raised serious concerns. Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, a major political contributor to Republicans in Congress and the Trump inauguration. There are also serious questions around how Trump’s Supreme Court pick, federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch, could further erode campaign finance and ethics laws, a topic which U.S. Senators must question him on during confirmation hearings.

The bottom line, as Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan recently told The Wall Street Journal, is that President Trump is “swimming in” the swamp he promised to drain and “that is not what his supporters elected him to do.”

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics, Money in Politics

Tags: Executive Ethics

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