Senior Counselor to the Secretary Potentially Misrepresented Former Client Relationships
Today, Energy Policy Advocates (EPA) and Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General (IG) and ethics officials presenting information that suggests Senior Counselor to the Secretary Elizabeth Klein may have violated federal ethics laws and the Biden Ethics Pledge. These provisions prohibit political appointees from engaging in certain matters involving former employers and clients.
Ms. Klein, whose nomination for Deputy Secretary was withdrawn before she could be confirmed by the Senate, may have failed to provide vital information about the scope of her former employment from ethics officials preparing her guidance. While this alone could constitute an ethics violation, it also might have resulted in her working on matters she would have been prohibited from participating in if ethics officials were fully informed of her previous client relationships.
Ms. Klein served as Deputy Director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (the “Center”) from January 2017 until joining Interior in January 2021. The Center, using funds obtained from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, entered into controversial agreements with state attorneys general (AG) offices around the country. As part of these agreements, the Center provided communications and consulting services and paid for legal fellows to assist the state AG offices with environmental litigation, much of which was in opposition to policies and actions of the Department of the Interior.
EPA’s state litigation efforts have uncovered agreements which Ms. Klein’s former employer entered into with at least 11 states. Yet documents provided by the Department indicate Ms. Klein may have revealed relationships to ethics officials regarding only five states. Ms. Klein’s potential conflicts of interest have also drawn the attention of Congressional representatives. EPA and PPT assert that a full investigation is warranted to ascertain whether Ms. Klein provided all appropriate information to ethics officials and whether she may have participated in matters from which she should have been recused.
“These new documents uncovered by Energy Policy Advocates suggest that Ms. Klein may have provided consulting services to many more state AG offices than just those reflected in her ethics guidance,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “The belief that ethics obligations are not enforced equally is a major reason the American public’s trust in its government is at an all-time low. Of course, ethics officials can only provide guidance based on the information they are given. We believe that a complete and thorough investigation is necessary to ensure that Interior officials are fully adhering to their ethics obligations and avoiding potential conflicts.”
“The American people deserve to know that public servants have disclosed all the work they did in the private sector and recused from decisions that might benefit their former employers,” stated Rob Schilling, Executive Director of Energy Policy Advocates. “We hope the Inspector General will take a close look at these records and investigate whether Ms. Klein inappropriately failed to disclose her private employment or to recuse herself from decisions involving her former clients.”
The American public deserves to know:
- Whether a state AG office’s decision to enter into a Secondment Agreement with Ms. Klein’s employer, including a Secondment Agreement that explicitly listed Ms. Klein as a point of contact, made Ms. Klein a “consultant,” “agent,” “contractor,” or other analogous relationship to the state AG;
- Whether a state AG office’s decision to enter into a Common Interest Agreement with former clients of Ms. Klein’s on matters where she participated in the coordination and strategic development of that unified party litigation, made Ms. Klein a “consultant,” “agent,” “contractor,” or other analogous relationship to those parties;
- Whether Ms. Klein timely disclosed to ethics officials the existence and nature of her contractual relationship with all of the state AG offices who signed a Secondment Agreement with Ms. Klein’s employer during her tenure;
- Whether ethics advice was contemporaneously provided in written form regarding these additional relationships, and if so, when, in what manner, and why have these documents not been provided as responsive documents in relevant FOIA requests; if such advice was not contemporaneously provided in written form, why was it not and was that requested by Ms. Klein?
- Whether Ms. Klein inappropriately avoided disclosing to ethics officials that several state AG offices signed Secondment Agreements with her former employer during her tenure;
- Whether and to what extent Ms. Klein has participated in particular matters involving any of the states that signed a Secondment Agreement since joining the Department;
- Whether Ms. Klein sought ethics approval prior to participation with any former client – including former clients ultimately listed on her recusal list and former clients with whom she provided strategic and communications services to under the Secondment Agreements;
- Whether the temporary removal of Ms. Klein’s former clients from her recusal list in April 2020 (which were later added in June 2020) was justified and whether Ms. Klein inappropriately attended any meetings with those three states in that time period.