The federal ethics office is overwhelmed by Trump’s rich nominees: NYT
Each of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees must submit their personal financial disclosure filings to The Office of Government Ethics. But each of these nominees come from a background that means a lot of finances to disclose. In fact, Trump’s cabinet will be the wealthiest in modern American history.
The multi-page, filings aren’t just a lot of information to digest for Americans, it’s overwhelming the ethics office, The New York Times reported Friday. The filings help outline possible conflicts of interest as the nominees take over their agencies. Further, they require the incoming cabinet officials sign letters swearing that they are committed to avoiding such conflicts.
“The Office of Government Ethics is stressed, no doubt about that,” said Robert Rizzi, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson. The firm represents many of the president-elect’s nominees filing the paperwork. “They are having some difficulty keeping up.”
Rex Tillerson owns more than $50 million of Exxon Mobil stock and his personal wealth exceeds $300 million. His first filing is a mere nine pages, but The Times explains that it is merely the start of hundreds of pages that will be released about Tillerson’s finances.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is similarly submitting his own financial disclosures as he readies to begin his new White House position. He too comes from an immense amount of wealth and the combined investments with Trump’s daughter ought to be an extensive read.
Tillerson and Kushner aren’t even the wealthiest of the nominees. Trump’s education pick, Betsy DeVos, is worth over $5 billion with extensive investments.
“Usually, you just own a bunch of stocks and bonds, but he’s getting people that own buildings and real estate and stuff you can’t sell,” New York-based compensation consultant Alan Johnson told The Times. “He has Wilbur Ross, who is probably involved in a gazillion different things. I think it is going to be very complicated to try to disentangle all of these things.”
It makes things a little more complicated. Tillerson has agreed to unload all of his Exxon stock and put his investments into a blind trust. Something his own boss won’t do, despite promising that he would.
The federal laws bar all employees of the executive branch from using their position in the government to increase their own personal wealth and power. As such, they’re prohibited from participating in any specific issues that can benefit them financially.
Devos, for example, has been nominated to serve as Trump’s Secretary of Education, but she and her husband own a private charter school and worked to ease oversight of charter schools. Devos advocating for policies that her school would benefit from could enrich her personally.
“We don’t want the decisions that these individuals make to be influenced — in reality, or even appearance — by their own financial interests,” said Lawrence Noble, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. “They are working for the American people, and not to enrich themselves or their families.”
To avoid it all, Noble urges people to simply sell everything off.
Many activist groups and issue-based organizations say that these individuals aren’t capable of removing themselves from their own investments for the betterment of their jobs for Americans.
“It is impossible for [Tillerson] to remove his career, and frankly his personality, from the oil and gas industry,” said Lena Moffitt, director of a Sierra Club efforts to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. “He has been knee deep in this industry for more than four decades.”
“DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers. “The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.”
Each of the financial disclosure forms will eventually be uploaded for all Americans to view on the FEC’s website.