Ceremony presents a prime opportunity for “prohibited sources” to circumvent ethics restrictions
Today, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) launched an investigation into potential ethics violations and influence peddling that may have occurred at the recent wedding of Secretary Deb Haaland. While we offer our congratulations to the Secretary, we remain committed to carrying out our mission, which requires us to protect the public’s trust that senior government officials are carrying out their duties in an objective, transparent and compliant manner. In the past, special interests have sought to circumvent rules and curry favor through impermissible gifts. Unfortunately, major events like a Cabinet official’s wedding provide an opportune environment for otherwise “prohibited sources” to engage in such chicanery. It is the Constitutional obligation of senior Executive Branch leaders to avoid violations and comply with all relevant laws.
Secretary Haaland’s Native American heritage has been a prominent aspect of her tenure at Interior. Yet as the head of a large federal agency charged with managing billions of dollars and numerous Trust responsibilities, and carrying out regulatory oversight of hundreds of Tribal governments, the Secretary may have placed herself in a compromising situation if she failed to consult with ethics officials every step of the way. The public deserves to know whether Secretary Haaland has improperly solicited or received gifts (through invitation or directly) from “prohibited sources” or foreign governments and to what extent she may have used government resources to do it. We hope Interior will change course from its recent practice of stonewalling requests for information and commit to meeting its statutory obligations.
As the New York Times recently highlighted, officials are not allowed to keep gifts valued at more than $390. Federal regulations, as summarized by DOI’s gift guidance, prohibit Secretary Haaland from accepting gifts of more than $20 from prohibited sources, which include any person seeking official action with DOI, doing business or seeking to do business with DOI, conducting activities regulated by DOI, or having interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the Secretary’s official duties. Additionally, under the Constitution, it is illegal for an American to accept a gift from a foreign government. These restrictions are imputed to Secretary Haaland’s spouse.
“While Secretary Haaland’s wedding is certainly an occasion for celebration, it unfortunately presents an opportunity for those so inclined to sidestep the rules that protect the interests of the American public,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “The onus is on the Secretary and the Department she has been charged to lead to not only maintain compliance but be able to demonstrate that to the American public. Especially considering the documented lack of compliance with public health restrictions by participants and guests at the wedding, it’s even more vital for the Department to break with their tendencies during the Haaland era and provide the utmost transparency.”
Questions that should be answered:
- Which DOI officials attended Secretary Haaland’s wedding? What government resources were used in the planning, preparation, and execution of the wedding?
- Did any Native American Tribe, member of a Tribe’s leadership, employee of a Tribe or other “prohibited source” gift anything of value to Secretary Haaland or her husband? Have they reported any such gifts?
- Was any attendee at Secretary Haaland’s wedding considered a “prohibited source”? Were the Department’s ethics officials and Solicitor’s Office made aware of this potential conflict and violation of the law?
- Did the Secretary seek and receive approval from the ethics office prior to sending out any invitations so as to avoid the improper solicitation of gifts from potentially “prohibited sources”?
- When will the Department release the attendee and gift lists to ensure full transparency around those who participated and provided gifts to Secretary Haaland?
- What analysis was conducted, if any, by the Department’s ethics officials prior to wedding invitations being sent out and wedding gifts being accepted? Will the Department release those public records as required under the law?