CLC Holds Commerce Secretary Accountable for Financial Conflicts of Interest


At a Glance

Since Wilbur Ross was confirmed to his cabinet position as Commerce Secretary in February 2017, CLC has conducted vigorous oversight of his conduct, due to public concerns that his own financial interests conflict with the public interest.

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About this Action

Secretary Ross’s vague, incomplete, and inconsistent public financial disclosures buttress the public’s concern about whether the financial interests of a particularly wealthy cabinet secretary influenced administration policies affecting American companies.

In August 2018, CLC’s ethics team reviewed Ross’s public financial records and determined that there was enough evidence for the Inspector General to investigate Ross for failing to recuse from matters affecting his financial interests and making false statements. This led to a 115-page report that CLC submitted to the Inspector General.

Details in the report CLC compiled show that in 2017, Ross led an investigation to determine whether the United States should impose a tariff on steel imports while holding Invesco stock worth millions. At the time, Invesco had a significant interest in Chinese steel through a subsidiary that Ross ran until he joined the government. While leading the steel investigation, Ross also held stock in a steel-dependent railcar manufacturer named Greenbrier. One day after Greenbrier CEO Mark Furman sent a letter to the Commerce Department expressing concern about the investigation’s effect on his company, Ross sold up to a half million dollars’ worth of Greenbrier stock. Ross, who sold Greenbrier stock three times in 2017, claims that these sales occurred after he had unexpectedly discovered he still held shares of the company’s stock. However, Ross does not appear to have recused from the steel investigation after each discovery pending divestiture of the shares.

Additionally, according to reporting by Forbes, Ross hosted Chevron’s then-CEO John Watson, along with two company lobbyists, in his conference room on March 22, 2017 to discuss oil and gas developments, tax reform and trade issues. Ross’s wife owned a stake in the company worth more than $250,000. This caused CLC to file a supplemental complaint on November 1, 2018 because federal law prohibits officials from taking actions that have a predictable and direct effect on financial interests held by them or their spouses.

As CLC ethics counsel Delaney Marsco has said, the American people have entrusted Ross with power and authority so he can ensure the welfare of the American economy. We should not have to wonder if he's making decisions for the benefit of the public or for his own pocketbook.

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