Press Releases

Statement on Report of Clinton Transition Adopting an Ethics Pledge

Progressives welcome its adoption, but urge the Clinton transition to go further to address financial conflicts of interest, and note Trump has failed to adopt a pledge 

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

WASHINGTON, DC — October 26, 2016 — The Clinton transition has adopted an ethics pledge that “mandates that transition officials recuse themselves from working on any issues on which they have lobbied in the past year,” according to a report in Politico today. The text of the pledge is not publicly available, but is reported to follow the Obama transition’s code of ethical conduct, at least in part.

A week ago, a bipartisan coalition of 16 organizations urged the Clinton and Trump transitions to adopt a tighter code of ethical conduct, borrowing language from Obama’s code but better addressing financial conflicts of interests, unregistered lobbyists and their superiors, and putting a senior person in the transition in charge of ethics (an Ethics Czar). The Trump campaign has not adopted a code of ethical conduct.

David Segal, executive director at Demand Progress, condemning the Trump transition effort, said:

“The Donald Trump campaign and transition team is rife with conflicts of interest that make it clear the special interests are running the show. At a minimum, Mr. Trump must issue for the transition an iron clad conflicts of interest policy–a code of ethical conduct–and instantiate strong leadership to enforce those policies.”

Kurt Walters, campaign director at Rootstrikers, a project of Demand Progress focused on Wall Street reform, said:

“We welcome the reported adoption of an ethics pledge by the Clinton transition, but the Clinton transition should go farther and address financial conflicts of interest.

In 2008, it was a Citigroup executive, Michael Froman, who was the senior advisor on Obama’s transition team choosing the economic appointees who would help give Citigroup the biggest bailout of any bank after the financial crisis. That kind of conflict of interest cannot be allowed in 2016. Individuals should be barred from involvement in transition matters where they have close financial ties to affected industries, companies, or individuals.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress, said:

“The Clinton transition’s reported adoption of a ban on federally registered lobbyists, without addressing shadow lobbyists and the persons who supervise lobbying, leaves a significant loophole for special interests to influence the transition process. People who will lobby the future administration should not be able to help choose the officials they will seek to influence.”

Schuman added:

“The Clinton transition should release its code of ethical conduct to the public. The Trump transition should step up and adopt a code of ethical conduct at least as comprehensive as what has been reported about Secretary Clinton’s, and go further in accordance with our bipartisan recommendations.”

On October 19, 2016, a bipartisan a coalition of 16 good government, transparency and membership groups called on Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump to adopt an ethical code of conduct for their transition teams that builds upon the principles adopted by presidential candidate Obama in 2008.

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). 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