Appropriations Democrats Call on Speaker Ryan to Address Trump Administration Conflicts of Interest

Jan 25, 2017

Washington, DC – Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee today called on Speaker Paul Ryan to take immediate steps to ensure the House of Representatives does not provide a forum for members of the Trump Administration to take official actions unduly influenced by private financial interests.

“Currently the men and women President Trump nominated for his Cabinet are going through an interview process for some of the toughest and most rewarding jobs in the country. They should be held to the highest of standards, but right now they aren’t even being held to the same standard any decent employer would expect. If one of my constituents in Northeast Ohio were up for a job, I know full well that they wouldn’t get away with half the stuff these millionaires and billionaires are trying to pull. My constituents deserve transparency and honesty when it comes to filling the top jobs of the government. Listen, I’ve got no problem with billionaires, I’d love to be one, but it is our duty in Congress to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in the Trump Administration,” said Congressman Ryan.

“President Trump has nominated individuals with unprecedented wealth and complex financial interests to serve in his Cabinet,” said Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY).  “The absolute least that the House of Representatives should do is provide full transparency and assurance to the public that Congress is not turning a blind eye to potential conflicts of interest.”

Lowey yesterday offered an amendment to the Committee rules package requiring Administration witnesses testifying before the Committee to provide written certification that they are complying with Ethics Agreements reached with the Office of Government Ethics.  These agreements are critical to ensure cabinet secretaries and department heads are divesting and shielding themselves from financial interests that could create an actual or apparent conflict of interest in their official duties.

The amendment was rejected on a party-line vote of 22-28.

Coming on the heels of the Republican majority’s attempts to undercut the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Office of Government Ethics, the Democrats wrote, “We are extremely concerned that through these actions, both the Congressional majority and the President are sending the signal that ethics and honesty do not matter.  They do matter.”

FULL LETTER                                                                

Speaker Ryan:

At a time when public trust and confidence in government is perilously low, it is more important than ever to ensure federal officials comport themselves with unimpeachable ethics and are free of personal conflicts of interest in their public responsibilities.

That is why we are extremely concerned by the prospect of members of President Trump’s Administration conducting official business prior to coming into full compliance with Ethics Agreements with the Office of Government Ethics.

In the coming weeks, the Appropriations Committee will be holding hearings on FY2018 federal spending, as well as writing a FY2017 Appropriations package, given the failure of the 114th Congress to complete this work before the end of 2016.  The Administration will make its views and preferences known to Congress about myriad funding levels and policy issues.  It appears highly likely that by this time, many Cabinet Secretaries and leaders of other federal agencies will not have been confirmed by the Senate, and will not be in full compliance with Ethics Agreements on file with the Office of Government Ethics.

We offered an amendment to the House Appropriations Committee rules package yesterday, requiring Cabinet Secretaries and Department heads testifying before the Committee to provide written certification of having filed a Public Financial Disclosure Report with the Office of Government Ethics, and of coming into full compliance with all Ethics Agreements on file.  This is important to assure American citizens and their representatives that the views expressed by the Administration are not unduly influenced by private financial interests.  It is extremely disappointing that the majority voted down this commonsense effort. 

This comes on the heels of the Republican majority’s attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics and threats to subpoena the head of the Office of Government Ethics for criticizing President Trump’s failure to divest from corporate ownership interests, liquidate business assets, and place them in a blind trust.  We are extremely concerned that through these actions, both the Congressional majority and the President are sending the signal that ethics and honesty do not matter.  They do matter.

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure the House of Representatives does not provide a forum for members of the Trump Administration to take official actions unduly influenced by private financial interests.

Sincerely,

Nita M. Lowey
Marcy Kaptur
Peter J. Visclosky
José E. Serrano
Rosa L. DeLauro
David E. Price
Lucille Roybal-Allard
Sanford Bishop
Betty McCollum
Tim Ryan
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Mike Quigley