Friday, January 6, 2017

Trump and cabinet full of conflicts of interest

The big reason that elected and appointed officials at both the state and federal level are supposed to disclose their business interests is to allow the public to recognize conflicts of interest which in many instances is enough to prevent them. Texas has state disclosure regulations and so do most cities. Congress passed and President Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge or STOCK Act in 2012 which makes it illegal for federal officials, whether elected or appointed such as cabinet members to profit from their knowledge of upcoming legislation or regulations or other information not available to the general public.

For roughly the last 40 years presidents have thought it appropriate to put their holdings into what is called a blind trust. That’s essentially like a mutual fund where the shareholder doesn’t know which stocks are owned. In this way a president can’t know how the decisions he makes or the agreements he signs will affect his personal finances so they shouldn’t affect the decision and he can’t profit from advance knowledge.

Donald Trump continues to refuse to produce his tax returns which are one way the American people could determine for themselves whether or not he takes undue advantage of a president’s far ranging access to secret information. Nor will he put his assets in a blind trust. Instead he says his children and managers will handle business for him but he’ll still know what companies he is invested in and what if any affect his decisions will have on those businesses before anyone else.

Last week in what appears to be an effort to curry favor with Trump the government of Kuwait has cancelled their reservation with a competing business and changed the location of an event to a Trump owned hotel.

While on the campaign trail Trump bragged that he knew how to game the system and therefore he knew how to clean it up but his actions so far suggest he has no intention of doing so. Trump’s nomination of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State, a position in which he will have numerous illegal conflicts of interest given his holdings in Exxon stocks and Exxon’s business dealings with Russia among other countries is just one reason for concern. Another problematic Trump nominee is Congressman Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services who has traded stock in at least forty health care companies while on the House committee that regulates them. More worrying is that close Trump advisor Newt Gingrich has proposed that Trump can simply pardon his cabinet members for the crimes of conflict of interest and continue as if they were legal to begin with.

Many people voted for Trump in the belief that he wouldn’t tolerate this kind of gaming the system but it seems he’s already letting them down. If you’re one of those people you certainly have a right to be angry. There are other examples of him backing away from campaign promises such as I’ll “drain the swamp”, “build a wall” and “lock her up”. I foresee more to come, so if you’re having buyer’s remorse now or feel it later the Resistance will welcome you.

 Published in the Seguin Gazette December 29, 2016

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