Press Releases

Federal Watchdog Announces Project Tracking Federal Ethics Waivers

Protect the Public’s Trust Is Also Tracking Down Potential Additional Waivers Not Yet Released

Today, Federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust unveiled its Ethics Waiver Tracker. As featured on Just the News a.m. with Sophie Mann this morning, Protect the Public’s Trust has compiled publicly available ethics waivers, including limited waivers and impartiality determinations granted by ethics officials to high-level Executive Branch leadership. 

The watchdog also filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with sixteen Federal agencies to discover what additional waivers have been granted to officials in those agencies but not been made public. Specifically, the organization will be tracking waivers and impartiality determinations related to the Biden Administration’s Ethics Pledge, detailed in Executive Order 13989, and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, 5 C.F.R. § 2635, subpart E, titled “Impartiality in Performing Official Duty.”

“It’s important the American public is aware of the waivers granted to high-level federal officials and their justifications,” declared Protect the Public’s Trust Director Michael Chamberlain. “Are waivers being issued because ethics restriction would impede the government’s ability to pursue the public’s interests? Or are they being issued because ethics restrictions would impede the Administration in power’s ability to pursue its policy agenda? One reason public trust in government is at an all-time low is the perception that government is an insider’s game that works to the benefit of large, well-connected organizations rather than the American public.”

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Granholm Announcement Leaves Many Ethics Questions Unanswered

The American public is left wondering if the Secretary benefitted from the Administration’s promotion of the “Tesla of electric buses”

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust applauds Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s decision to divest from Proterra, termed the “Tesla of electric buses,” but notes the decision appears to be a reaction to the weight of external forces and still leaves many relevant ethical questions unanswered. If her actions, as a DOE statement indicates, are “in full compliance with the comprehensive standards set by the Biden Administration,” the American public could rightfully question the value of those standards.

The Secretary released a list of divestments in early April that omitted Proterra while including investments with a far lower likelihood to present conflicts of interest. Between the time of that release and yesterday’s announcement, the President singled out the company for endorsement and promotion when he made a well-publicized virtual visit in April. Some analysts believe the high-profile visit and attention may have affected the company’s value and, as a result, the value of Granholm’s stock options. Additional concerns have been raised by Granholm’s leadership of an initiative around electric vehicle materials – one that could result in significant financial benefits for Proterra and potentially the value of her previous holdings in the company.

“While we are pleased that Secretary Granholm has eventually done the right thing and divested herself from Proterra, many questions remain unanswered,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Just as concerning, the action appears to be in response to external pressure due to the work of organizations such as Protect the Public’s Trust and journalists like Washington Free Beacon’s Matthew Foldi. While Secretary Granholm no longer owns the stock, the American public still deserves answers to why this perceived conflict lasted as long as it did.”

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The American public would be well-served if the Secretary, the Department of Energy, and the Biden Administration provided answers to the following questions:  

  1. Was the value of her stock options affected by Proterra’s promotion by the President while Granholm served as Energy Secretary, such as through his April virtual visit to Proterra?
  2. Was the value of her stock options influenced by the expected benefits the company could accrue from the Biden Administration’s renewable energy and electric vehicle initiatives, including those Granholm was chosen to lead?
  3. Why did Granholm not divest of these particular holdings when she divested of others that presented much lower potential ethical issues?
  4. Will Granholm be involved in any deliberations, decisions or actions at DOE that could benefit Proterra?
  5. Will she continue to lead Administration initiatives that could potentially result in financial benefits for Proterra or her other former green energy clients while with Granholm Mulhern Associates?
  6. Does her husband, either personally or through his consulting business, reconstituted from a partnership with Granholm, have any business or other relationships with Proterra?
  7. Has Granholm asked or will the White House grant a waiver to Granholm to participate in any particular matters of general applicability that might involve Proterra?

Watchdog Groups Continue to Raise Ethics Concerns over Top Interior Counsel

Elizabeth Klein will testify at subcommittee hearing despite ongoing questions regarding potential conflicts of interest

Today, Energy Policy Advocates and Protect the Public’s Trust renew their calls for the Department of the Interior to release public records and address the serious questions regarding senior political appointee Elizabeth Klein’s potential conflicts of interest. This afternoon, Klein will testify before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. It is likely that she will face numerous questions involving Department matters which could represent potential conflicts of interest for Klein, in light of her work for several state Attorney General’s offices which participated in litigation against the Department while she was employed by the Bloomberg-funded State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (“Center”).

Klein, through her former employer, provided representation to state AGs on numerous multi-state lawsuits and challenges to regulations. Public records show that during the course of this representation, Klein’s clients and even her own employees placed in the AG offices entered legal agreements with California’s AG, often signed by the Center’s “Fellows.” As Klein serves in a position requiring advising the Secretary on Endangered Species Act regulations, the Shasta Dam or the California Valley Project biological opinions, the Department continues to withhold all information regarding Klein’s disclosures about her representation of AGs, recusals and guidance from the Department’s ethics office.

“Elizabeth Klein’s appearance before this subcommittee revives questions of her myriad potential conflicts of interest,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, stated. “With the vast breadth of her former clients and the matters they were involved in, if she only addresses areas that do not constitute potential conflicts, it may be a short hearing indeed. The Department of the Interior’s apparent unwillingness to provide the public with the ethics guidance provided to Klein does not inspire trust.”

Executive Director Rob Schilling of Energy Policy Advocates, which today filed its second federal FOIA lawsuit for records pertaining to Klein’s work, adds:

“Public records leave no doubt that Elizabeth Klein entered agreements to serve as an attorney for numerous state offices of the attorney general, and that this representation included ‘particular matters’ in which those offices are adverse to DOI, on which Ms. Klein would ordinarily be expected to work given her position. Energy Policy Advocates laid this out in a letter to DOI’s Ethics Office, providing links to contracts and even a recent state court of appeals opinion affirming this, requesting the Ethics Office release what are well-understood to be public records. Yet, in reversing longstanding practice, the Department has clamped down on release of the documents that would show what Ms. Klein disclosed to her Ethics officer and when she disclosed it.”

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Will the hearing allow the American public to learn:

1. Whether the DOI Ethics office is aware of the role Ms. Klein played in representing many state AGs in particular matters now under her purview at the Department? Did Ms. Klein in fact disclose that she was these AGs’ attorney on particular matters? If not, how does she explain a recent court ruling denying the public access to records pertaining to the representation in question? If so, what particular matters has the Ethics Office advised Ms. Klein to recuse herself from?

2. Whether or not Ms. Klein has received proper ethics guidance and a recusal letter outlining her ethical obligations from the DOI Ethics Office?

3. Has Ms. Klein been recused from all particular matters involving California and western water, including those relating to Shasta Dam and the Central Valley Project operations?

4. Has Ms. Klein been recused from other matters in which state AGs are presently in litigation or undertaking regulatory challenges, including for instance, litigation surrounding the previous administration’s ESA rules?

Watchdog Demands Information on High-Level Officials’ Use of Apps That Can Hide Communications from Public View

Using Encrypted Apps to Avoid Laws Like FOIA Would Make Ethics Obligations More Difficult to Enforce

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust demanded records from multiple federal agencies regarding high-level officials’ uses of encrypted messaging applications, which can hide communications from the press and public. The American public deserves to know whether officials are using these applications to communicate, if they are using them to discuss official business and, if so, the content of those communications.

The use of communications platforms that are able to cloak conversations raises concerns regarding transparency, accountability, and compliance with ethics responsibilities. Even if officials are using these platforms for purely personal communications, their use creates the perception in the eyes of the public that these officials may not be conducting their public service out in the open and free of potential conflict or bias.

“Public records and public information laws exist for a reason,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “The American public rightly demands the work of their government be performed in the light of day. High-level officials communicating on platforms that can hide their activities from public view further degrades the public’s trust in their government, which is already at an all-time low.”

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Interior Secretary Haaland Added to Watchlist as Questions Swirl Around Ethics and Departmental Leadership

Issues with Financial Disclosures, Potential Conflicts of Top-Level Staff Could Hinder Department Operations

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust added Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to its list of Executive Branch leaders with ethical questions to answer. Despite a dearth of executive experience and a number of issues with previous financial disclosure documents, Haaland was named to lead the 70,000-employee agency with a complex budget that could run to more than $17 billion.

Already the Department has been forced to shuffle staff in response to poor judgement and potential conflicts of interest. She has also appointed top lieutenants and advisors whose numerous potential conflicts of interest could seriously hamper their abilities to perform their duties.

“The haphazard manner in which Secretary Haaland appears to have handled her required financial disclosures raises questions about whether she really took this important measure of transparency seriously,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “The missteps and potential conflicts of her closest advisors don’t inspire confidence in her ability to manage the ethical maze that comes with running a large federal agency. The American public needs answers to numerous questions to be convinced the Department will operate in a manner that will earn their confidence and trust.”

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OPEN QUESTIONS

  • Why has it been so difficult for Secretary Haaland to correctly file a simple financial disclosure document, and when will we see the final and correct version?
  • How can the public be assured that the DOI’s complex multibillion-dollar budget will be effectively and properly cared for under Secretary Haaland’s leadership if a simple financial disclosure form has proven so difficult?
  • What faith should the American people have in the integrity of the DOI’s leaders when one member of Secretary Haaland’s inner circle was forced out of her position by the White House for a series of “lapses of judgement” and has a history of failure to uphold ethics rules for federal employees, but remains in a key decision-making role at the Department?
  • Was Secretary Haaland aware that the two individuals she ordered to carry out the directives of SO 3399 both have vast potential conflicts of interests that may preclude them from performing those duties without violating their ethics obligations?
  • If Secretary Haaland was aware of Ms. Klein and Mr. Beaudreau’s potential conflicts of interests, did she consult with the DOI’s Ethics Office to ensure Ms. Klein and Mr. Beaudreau could legally perform the duties assigned to them prior to issuing SO 3399? If so, what guidance did the Ethics Office provide, and will that be made known to the public so the American people can be assured of Ms. Klein and Mr. Beaudreau’s compliance?
  • What systems have been put in place to ensure Secretary Haaland’s senior advisors are complying with their ethics obligations while still fulfilling their assigned duties?

Granholm Deputy May Be Caught in Potential Ethics Violation, Adding to DOE’s Woes

Energy head may not be the only official at her agency to spark ethics concerns and a possible investigation.

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), asked ethics officials at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) whether the Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman committed several ethics violations in recent public speaking engagements. The new inquiry comes fresh on the heels of Speakes-Backman’s boss, Secretary Jennifer Granholm, earning the dubious honor of addition to PPT’s growing list of high-level Executive Branch officials with potential ethics problems.

Through independent research, PPT has uncovered several instances in which Speakes-Backman appears to have participated in events where she either endorsed her former employer, the Energy Storage Association (ESA), or was sponsored by a “Leadership Circle” Member of her former employer while acting in her official DOE capacity. In one instance Speakes-Backman seems to endorse several policy requests of ESA, whose members stand to reap significant financial benefits from initiatives under the auspices of the office she leads.

“As Americans sit in gas lines unseen in nearly fifty years, they could rightly wonder if their interests are a priority for the Department of Energy,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Secretary Granholm continues to hold stock in a company that could benefit from DOE initiatives. Now we discover that one of her top lieutenants may be following in her footsteps by potentially violating her ethics agreement in a way that could financially benefit her former employer. The more the American public finds out what is going on at DOE the more reason they have to lose trust in their government.”

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Granholm’s Ties to “Tesla of Buses” Earn Dubious Honor

More than two months after being named to lead an administration initiative on electric vehicles, Granholm continues to hold stock in a company that could benefit from it.

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust added Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to its growing list of high-level Federal government appointees with potential conflicts of interest. Granholm holds stock options worth up to $5 million in Proterra, a company dubbed “the Tesla of electric buses” that stands to reap significant financial benefits from Biden administration initiatives, some of which Granholm herself leads. Though she has provided documentation of divesting in other holdings far less likely to present conflicts, Proterra was not included among them.

While Granholm held stock options in Proterra, President Biden took a well-publicized virtual tour of the company’s plant. The President’s promotion of Proterra could affect the value of the privately held firm looking to go public, and the value of Granholm’s shares along with it. The visit raises additional questions of whether Granholm or one of her deputies participated in the site selection. Granholm’s activities have prompted a request for an Office of Inspector General investigation from the U.S. Senate.

“Jennifer Granholm has continued to hold stock options in a company that stands to benefit from initiatives she is personally involved with,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, a non-profit organization focused on compliance in government. “What discussions has she had with ethics officials and how will she be able to lead these initiatives that could benefit a company with which she has had an ongoing relationship? These are precisely the types of conflicts that cause the American public to lose trust in their government.” 

Granholm formerly served as Governor of Michigan. Her administration was responsible for a number of failed investments in renewable energy and electric vehicle companies that left taxpayers on the hook for millions.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The public’s trust that the Department of Energy’s decisions are being made in an ethical manner and not financially benefiting entities with covered relationships to the Secretary stands to be severely damaged. Complete answers to the following questions could go a long way to addressing these concerns:  

  1. Why did Secretary Granholm not divest her Proterra stock on April 6, when she divested of so many other stocks, particularly given the promotion of the company by President Biden?
  2. How has Secretary Granholm’s position as Secretary of Energy benefitted Proterra’s projected stock price, and by extension, Granholm’s financial portfolio?
  3. What role did Secretary Granholm or anyone at DOE have in the White House’s choice for President Biden to tour Proterra while the Secretary of Energy still owns the company’s stock and stands to benefit financially from that presidential visit?
  4. Does Secretary Granholm plan to hold her Proterra stock options for the entire 180 days following confirmation – the period of time she claims she is permitted to do so under the law? Will she commit to divesting of the stock options prior to the company going public?
  5. Will Secretary Granholm recuse herself from any decision, deliberation, or particular matter that could financially benefit Proterra?
  6. Will Secretary Granholm commit to releasing the client list of her husband’s consulting business, including all green energy companies that stand to benefit from her position and agenda?

Protect the Public’s Trust Commends Watchdog Group for Lawsuit Seeking Ethics Documents on “Walking Conflict of Interest”

Does the Department of the Interior have something to hide in its handling of Elizabeth Klein’s potential conflicts?

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust today commended Energy Policy Advocates (EPA) for its lawsuit demanding the Department of the Interior turn over basic information concerning Elizabeth Klein’s enormous conflicts of interest. As the Secretary’s top lawyer, Ms. Klein’s conflicts present a major liability for the Department. Their response to EPA’s request for information only raises the level of concern over how it is handling her relationship with former clients.

“The American public could rightly wonder if the Department of the Interior thinks it has something to hide,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, a non-profit organization focused on compliance in government. “The Department has placed unnecessary roadblocks in the way of a simple request for information. Considering the massive volume of potential conflicts Elizabeth Klein brings to her high-level post it might be easier to list the very few matters that don’t present a conflict for her. With Interior’s stonewalling, it’s no wonder the American public’s trust in government is at an all-time low.” 

EPA filed suit to obtain ethics documents concerning Ms. Klein’s disclosures as well as recusals and possible waivers from Department ethics officials regarding particular matters that present potential conflicts. The organization is being forced to go to court to obtain the information after Interior placed unusual barriers on a Freedom of Information Act request from EPA. 

Before joining the Department, Ms. Klein helped run a Bloomberg-funded operation that was involved with litigation efforts of more than one-third of state Attorneys General offices, touching on virtually every major issue facing the Department of the Interior. Originally tapped to become Interior’s Deputy Secretary, her intended nomination was withdrawn when it became clear she would not earn Senate confirmation.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

If provided by the Department of the Interior, the records requested will likely assist the public in learning the answers to the following five questions:  

  1. Did Klein inform the Department of the Interior’s Ethics office of the reality that she and her former employer served as attorneys for a multitude of states?
  2. Did Ethics officials provide written recusal guidance to Klein?
  3. If so, has Klein distributed her written recusal guidance to various offices that deal with the Counselor to the Secretary to ensure proper screening?
  4. Has Klein participated in any deliberation, decision, or action related to any of the approximately 17 states who were her former employer’s client?
  5. Has Elizabeth Klein complied with her ethics obligations? To comply with the Biden Ethics Pledge, and specifically his Revolving Door policy, Elizabeth Klein may not participate in any matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to her former employer or her former clients for a period of two years.

Protect the Public’s Trust Applauds Watchdog Group For Raising Ethics Concerns Over Haaland’s Top Lawyer

Elizabeth Klein helped run the Bloomberg-funded activist operation that used state Attorneys General to bring environmental litigation, raising serious ethics questions

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust applauded Energy Policy Advocates for raising important questions to ethics officials at the Department of the Interior regarding massive conflicts of interest concerns with Secretary Haaland’s appointment of Elizabeth Klein to serve as Senior Counselor to the Secretary.

“When you truly dig into the number of matters Klein would be prohibited from working on, it is mind-blowing. Such a massive recusal might be without precedent. If Klein was fully transparent with the Ethics office, this documentation should be readily available. It also means Klein should have a lot of free time on her hands.” said Clay Sutton, spokesman for Protect the Public’s Trust, a non-profit organization focused on corruption in government.

The documentation developed by Energy Policy Advocates supports previous reports that Klein is a walking conflict of Interest. Based on these records, it appears she would be prohibited from working on any matter involving as many as a third of US states, who maintained an attorney relationship with her former employer.

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

If provided by the Department of the Interior, the records requested will likely assist the public in learning the answers to the following five questions:  

  1. Did Klein inform the Department of the Interior’s Ethics office of the reality that she and her former employer served as attorneys for a multitude of states?
  2. Did Ethics officials provide written recusal guidance to Klein?
  3. If so, has Klein distributed her written recusal guidance to various offices that deal with the Counselor to the Secretary to ensure proper screening?
  4. Has Klein participated in any deliberation, decision, or action related to any of the approximately 17 states who were her former employer’s client?
  5. Has Elizabeth Klein complied with her ethics obligations?
    1. To comply with the Biden Ethics Pledge, and specifically his Revolving Door policy, Elizabeth Klein may not participate in any matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to her former employer or her former clients for a period of two years.