Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–August 2017 Update

This past May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our August update is now available here.

Despite all the drama and turbulence surrounding the Administration over the past month, there is relatively little new material in this month’s update. Perhaps the most notable new reports concern the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Over the past month, new reports surfaced concerning companies connected with Kushner’s family business attempting to leverage his name and position to secure Chinese investment in real estate development projects, despite previous apologies by Kushner Companies to cease such conduct; Kushner enterprises claimed no knowledge that associated promotion companies were doing this. Additionally, reports surfaced that Kushner tried and failed to secure an investment from a Qatari billionaire (and former Prime Minister) for Kushner Companies’ financially troubled property at 666 Park Avenue, and the Trump Administration’s subsequent support for the boycott of Qatar by several of its neighbors appears to have been driven by Kushner, fueling admittedly unproven speculation that the Administration’s foreign policy is being influenced by hostility born out of a failed business deal, and perhaps an interest in signaling to other foreign governments, or individuals closely associated with foreign governments, that failure to do business with Trump or Kushner companies on favorable terms will adversely affect relations with the U.S. government.

(Note: While we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–July 2017 Update

This past May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our July update is now available here. The most notable new highlight in the new material concerns two developments related to housing subsidies: First, while President Trump’s proposed budget proposed slashing funding for most housing assistance programs, it conspicuously exempts a program that provides payments directly to private landlords–a program from which Trump directly profits due to his ownership stake in a New York housing development that receives subsidies under the program. Second, President Trump appointed an event planner with close ties to his family (but no prior experience in housing policy) to a senior government position responsible for disbursing federal housing funds in New York and New Jersey, where the Trump Organization has substantial real estate holdings.

(Note: While we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–June 2017 Update

Last month, we announced the launch of our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our June update is now available here.

Highlights from the new material include:

  • Federal government agencies promoting Ivanka Trump’s book
  • Trump advisors and confidants Carl Icahn and Rupert Murdoch allegedly influencing administration decisions in ways that benefit their financial interests
  • Efforts by Jared Kushner’s sister to attract Chinese investors to a family company project by touting her son’s role as senior advisor to the President
  • Allegations that Jared Kushner and the chairman of a Russian state-owned development bank may have discussed the possibility of a loan to the Kushner family business in exchange for relaxation of U.S. government sanctions on Ukraine
  • Substantial payments by state government pension funds to entities affiliated with Trump Organization businesses.

(Note: While we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

 

The Trump Legacy: A Gladstonian Finale?

For a man whose biographer describes him as obsessed “with protecting his image,” President Donald Trump seems oblivious to how flouting conflict of interest norms is blackening that image.  Perhaps he thinks that the criticisms leveled (examples from GAB: here and here, major media: here, here, and here) are just the carpings of Clinton supporters that will fade over time. And that his presidential accomplishments will overshadow whatever he may do to grow the Trump patrimony while holding the office.

He might want to consider how conflict of interest charges have sullied the image of one of Britain’s finest leaders since he left office 123 years ago.  So great has the fuss been that that no biographer, no matter how sympathetic, and no history of 19th century Britain can ignore the charges. Continue reading

Shareholder Proposals as a Response to Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Donald Trump’s continuing failure to place his assets in a blind trust creates an opportunity for him to abuse the public office of the Presidency for private gain—his own and his family’s. The Trumps have shown themselves willing to work with blatantly corrupt business partners in the past; now, with the awesome power of the Presidency, Trump is in a unique position to do significant damage to the anticorruption agenda. People who, like me, are bothered by the conflicts of interest have sought ways to fight back. While my last post discussed the viability of the Trump anticorruption boycotts, here I discuss a different but potentially complementary approach: shareholder proposals.

What is a shareholder proposal? Every year, each shareholder receives a long booklet of information, called a proxy statement, from every company in which he or she holds stock. These proxy statements are compiled by corporate leadership and distributed to shareholders, who are asked to vote on certain matters: electing directors to the board, hiring the corporate accounting firm, and approving executive compensation. At the end of the proxy statement come the shareholder proposals, short recommendations for the board of directors. Shareholders are asked to vote for or against those proposals.

Under SEC Rule 14a-8, any shareholder (or group of shareholders) who holds $2,000 or 1% (whichever is less) of the company for at least one year may submit a proposal. (There are a few other procedural requirements as well, but they are not too onerous.) Although shareholder proposals are merely advisory—the directors and management retain their power to make decisions on behalf of the corporation—shareholder proposals in the past have been used to advance social and political goals. For example, social activists used shareholder proposals to urge divesting from South Africa during the apartheid era. Last year Exxon Mobile included shareholder proposals to place a climate expert on the Board and to report on compensation for women. A shareholder proposal for Coca-Cola asked the company to report on its operations in high-risk regions with poor human rights records.

In this vein, anticorruption activists who hold stock in corporations that do business with the Trump family brands (such as Amazon, Macy’s, or Zappos) could submit shareholder proposals urging those companies to report on or cease all such business. To be sure, shareholder proposals are merely recommendations to the board. But shareholder proposals are nonetheless a low-cost tool in the anticorruption advocate’s toolbox that can help keep public attention on the issue and prevent the normalization of Trump’s conflicts.

An anti-Trumpian-conflicts-of-interest shareholder proposal, cast in the formalistic style typical of such proposals, might look something like the following:

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Profiting from the Presidency? Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration

The Trump Administration has been dogged by accusations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests. We’ve had numerous posts on this blog about these issues (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here), including a recent overview of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct.

Because it can be hard to keep track of the various allegations related to corruption and conflict of interest in the Trump Administration–and because accusations of “corruption” are sometimes framed quite broadly–we’re going to try to keep track of credible allegations that relate specifically to President Trump, his family, and his close associates exploiting the office of the presidency for personal financial gain. Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regularly updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. (We are not the only ones keeping track of these issues. For other useful resources and compilations, see here, here, and here.)

We will organize the issues into the following four categories, which capture four related but distinct ways that political leaders leverage the power of public office to enrich themselves, their families, and their cronies:

  1. U.S. Government Payments to the Trump Organization
  2. Use of the Power of the Presidency to Promote Trump Brands
  3. U.S. Government Regulatory and Policy Decisions that Benefit Business Interests of the Trump Family and Senior Advisors
  4. Private and Foreign Interests Seeking to Influence the Trump Administration Through Dealings with Trump Businesses

You can find our first report here.

Anticorruption Tools in the Anti-Trump Toolkit: A Primer

[Kaitlin Beach provided helpful research and thoughtful contributions to this post.]

Since Donald Trump’s election, critics have asserted that his presidency presents unprecedented risks of corruption, cronyism, and conflict of interest. Many argue that President Trump and members of his administration are already engaging in conduct that is not only unethical, but also illegal. Because it can be hard for non-specialists to keep track of the myriad rules that have been referenced in the context, this post provides a brief, non-technical overview of the most important federal laws and regulations that are designed to prevent corruption, conflict-of-interest, and self-dealing in the U.S. government, focusing on those that have been most widely or most creatively discussed in relation to fighting a purportedly corrupt Trump administration.

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