Press Releases

Bipartisan Coalition To Campaigns: Adopt Ethics Code for Transition

Recs Expand on 2008 Code on Financial Conflicts of Interest, Direct Advocacy, and the Creation of an Ethics Point Person

Press Contact:
Daniel Schuman, Policy Director | 202-577-6100 | [email protected]

Washington, DC— October 19, 2016 — Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump should adopt an ethical code of conduct for their transition teams that builds upon the principles adopted by presidential candidate Obama in 2008, said a bipartisan coalition of 16 good government, transparency and membership groups as well as prominent individuals in a letter released today.

The coalition wrote:

“Ethics in government is a dominant issue in your campaigns for president. Members of both parties agree it is of paramount importance that the public believe their leaders make decisions solely to advance the public interest.”

Some members of the transition team already are in place, with more being hired daily, and a surge of hires is likely after election day (November 8). There are 19 days until the election, and the post-election transition will last 73 days, from election day to inauguration day, (January 20, 2017), at which point staff will be absorbed into the new administration or disbanded.

The recommendations expand upon the Obama Transition Code of Ethical Conduct to address conflicts arising from financial interests and direct advocacy (lobbying), and suggest naming a senior person in the transition to be responsible for ethics. The letter is available here.

Financial Conflicts of Interest:
The code of ethical conduct would expand to include financial compensation or significant closely held assets—such as securities or stock options—as financial conflicts of interest that would preclude individuals from involvement in a particular matter.

In addition, when there is an apparent conflict, the code would now require a publicly-available determination on whether a person may participate, made by the Project Executive Director, based upon the stringent standard of maintaining the public’s faith in the political process.

Direct Advocacy:
The code of ethical conduct would refocus the Obama-era prohibitions arising from the Lobbying Disclosure Act to include persons who engage in direct advocacy or direct or supervise those who do.

All persons who engage in more than a de minimis amount of paid direct advocacy, defined as lobbying activities under Lobbying Disclosure Act, are prohibited from working on any matter on which they lobbied. This changes the current rule, which applies only to federal registered lobbyists who spent 20% of their time lobbying.

In addition, the code will now prohibit persons who direct or supervise the advocacy described above from working on matters on which their subordinate lobbied.

When concerns arise about how to apply the disqualification rules, the ethics code creates a new process by which the Executive Director makes a publicly-available determination based upon maintaining the public’s faith in the political process.

Senior Ethics Person:
The creation of a point person for ethics matters during the Obama administration was particularly successful. We recommend creating a senior person for ethics during the transition who is primarily responsible for enforcement of this code and addressing conflicts of interest and other ethical matters.

The following organizations and individuals endorsed the letter: Campaign for Accountability; Campaign Legal Center; Center for Biological Diversity; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Demand Progress; Democracy 21; Electronic Privacy Information Center; Franciscan Action Network; Issue One; Norman Ornstein; Peter Flaherty, president, National Legal and Policy Center; Project on Government Oversight; Sunlight Foundation; Take Back Our Republic; Richard Painter, University of Minnesota Law School (for affiliation purposes only); Wisconsin Democracy Campaign