Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed complaints with four Inspectors General and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) concerning a pattern of senior agency leaders trading stocks connected to their official duties.
The complaints stem from a report by The Wall Street Journal that uncovered senior officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) trading stocks directly tied to matters in which they were involved.
The investigations requested are necessary because the public has a right to know that the leaders of federal agencies, who have the power to affect our daily lives, are making decisions in the public interest and not their own financial interest.
The questionable stock holdings suggest a systemic problem of ethics officials approving or ignoring unethical conduct. Ethics officials at the FTC, for example, allowed the director of an office coordinating an investigation into a tech company to trade that company’s stock.
In addition, the FTC allowed the associate director of the office that sought information from two media companies to own both companies’ stock and the former FTC Chair involved in expanding the investigation into a company to trade that company’s stock.
Consistent and effective ethics enforcement is essential for maintaining the integrity of the executive branch. As a result, the Inspectors General of these agencies must investigate the root cause of ethics officials enabling unethical stock trades.
The public is particularly concerned about officials having conflicts of interest with their stock holdings, which is why President Biden promised before entering office to “renew public confidence in our democracy by ensuring that everyone in a position of public trust eliminates even the appearance that their financial holdings could influence decision-making.”
However, it is unclear whether he has taken steps to fulfill this promise in the executive branch. Each agency must uphold ethics rules to make the promise a reality.
Federal ethics rules ban officials from being involved in matters connected to their stock holdings, but these rules cannot protect the public from corrupt decision-making if they are not properly enforced. The OGE and Inspectors General are the guardians of these ethical guardrails, and it is imperative for them to investigate the matters to rebuild public trust.