Branstad’s Ethics Violations Yet Again Demonstrate the Need for Reform

Eric Branstad speaking at a podium with flags behind him.
Senior White House Commercial Advisor Eric Branstad addresses the audience at the annual China General Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, the United States, June 29, 2017. Credit: Wang Ping/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

Senior Trump administration officials have repeatedly violated laws and norms that protect Americans from the perils of the revolving door. Today, CLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General regarding another administration official who seems to have broken financial disclosure requirements and ethics rules.

Eric Branstad, a former Senior White House Advisor at the Department of Commerce, filed financial disclosure reports that failed to reveal income he derived from a prior role with the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign. In addition, his lobbying reports show that, after leaving his senior government position, he lobbied the Department of Commerce in violation of his ethics pledge.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, there are likely to be broad swaths of political appointees shuffling in and out of government.

If senior officials are permitted to violate ethics laws with impunity, it establishes a precedent that current and future political appointees can choose to exploit the revolving door—the practice of public officials or employees leaving their public service positions for lobbying jobs— while disregarding their ethics obligations, damaging the public’s trust.

Ethics laws exist to protect the American people, and the trust they put in their government. Financial disclosure laws ensure the public has the full picture of officials’ financial interests, including who used to pay their salary before entering government, and to whom they owe debts.

The ethics pledge and similar laws ensure senior officials do not take advantage of their power and the public’s trust while in government to serve wealthy special interests.

It is crucial that Congress takes the necessary steps to bolster ethics laws that protect the public from the perils of the revolving door. Legislation like the For the People Act, H.R. 1, which would strengthen ethics laws, could go a long way toward shutting the revolving door and making our elected officials more accountable to the American people.

The legislation would codify parts of the existing executive branch ethics pledge, which prohibits former employees from lobbying covered executive branch officials for the duration of the administration. The legislation also expands the scope of individuals and activities that would be subject to lobbying disclosure requirements.

Delaney is the Director, Ethics at CLC.
Kedric is CLC's Vice President, General Counsel, and Sen. Dir., Ethics