FiveThirtyEight: What Can We Do If A President Has A Conflict Of Interest But Doesn’t Think He Does?
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to government transparency, has been compiling a list of the president’s alleged conflicts of interest from news reports and legal documents. As of July 5, their count sat at 609 different ethical quandaries, of which only 46 had been resolved through the dissolution of a company, divestment by the Trumps, or some other means. That’s a lot for a leader who assured America back in December that the president “couldn’t have conflicts of interest” and promised he’d solved all of his in a January press conference.
Disclosing tax returns has never been legally required of presidential candidates — but every candidate for the past 40 years has volunteered disclosure, said Larry Noble, senior director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. Trump’s choice to withhold that information has made the public, ethicists and lawmakers more aware of how important that disclosure is. Several state legislatures — including New Jersey, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Oregon — are now pushing bills that would make disclosure of tax returns mandatory for any presidential candidate who wants to be on the ballot.
Trump’s bucking of voluntary disclosure norms has also drawn attention to how little presidents are required to report to begin with. Presidents fill out conflict of interest forms, Noble said. But those forms leave out a lot of detail. Personal businesses and LLCs have to be reported, but currently, “you don’t know who is behind it, what partners there are, what investors there are,” he said. Both he and Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who was also George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, said they would want to see changes to the level of detail those forms require.