CREW FILES ETHICS COMPLAINTS AGAINST KELLYANNE CONWAY

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2017
CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | jlibowitz@citizensforethics.org

CREW FILES ETHICS COMPLAINTS AGAINST KELLYANNE CONWAY

Washington, DC—Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway’s official endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s products from the White House this morning was an apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations and other standards of conduct, according to complaints filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the Office of Government Ethics and White House Counsel’s Office.

During an interview on Fox & Friends, Ms. Conway explicitly endorsed Ms. Trump’s products, saying, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you…It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. … I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.” At the time, Ms. Conway unquestionably was acting in her official capacity. She was introduced as “special counselor to President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway, who joins us today from the briefing room,” and the White House seal is clearly visible behind her during the interview.

“The law is clear that public officials should not use their offices for their own private gain or the private gain of others,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “It’s hard to find a clearer case of that kind of misuse of office than we saw today.”

Federal ethics regulations prohibit any employee from endorsing “any product, service or enterprise,” even explicitly saying that a government employee “may not appear in a television commercial in which she endorses” a product. Conway appears to have further violated federal law prohibiting the use of public funds for non-official purposes. Selling the president’s daughter’s clothing line is not an official purpose of the United States government.

“This is just another example of what looks like a disturbing pattern of this administration acting to benefit the businesses of the president’s family and supporters,” Bookbinder said. “Americans are unfortunately at the point where they have to question who the Trump administration is looking out for, the American people or the Trump family.”


 Read the Complaint


[TEXT OF COMPLAINT]

Walter M. Shaub, Jr.
Director
U.S. Office of Government Ethics
1201 New York Ave., N.W.
Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20005

The Honorable Donald F. McGahn
White House Counsel
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Director Shaub and Mr. McGahn:
February 9, 2017

In a television interview this morning, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway improperly endorsed the products of President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (“CREW”) therefore respectfully requests that U.S. Office of Government Ethics (“OGE”) and the White House Counsel’s Office investigate this apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations, and other standards of conduct, and take any necessary disciplinary action.

During an interview on Fox & Friends, Ms. Conway explicitly endorsed Ms. Trump’s products. In response to reports that Nordstrom department stores are dropping Ms. Trump’s accessories and clothing line and to President Trump’s tweet alleging Nordstrom had treated his daughter “so unfairly,” Ms. Conway stated: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, I’m going to go get some myself today. ” Later in the interview, Ms. Conway even more clearly endorsed Ms. Trump’s products, asserting: “It’ s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully- I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

At the time, Ms. Conway unquestionably was acting in her official capacity. She was introduced as the “special counselor to President of the United States, Kellyanne Conway, who joins us today from the briefing room,” and the White House seal is visible behind her during
the interview.

Federal ethics regulations concerning the “use of office for private gain” clearly prohibit any employee from endorsing “any product, service or enterprise.” Specifically, the regulations provide that “[a]n employee shall not use or permit the use of[her] Government position or title or any authority associated with [her] public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise” except in circumstances clearly inapplicable here. In fact, one example provided in the regulations states that a government employee “may not appear in a television commercial in which she endorses” a product. By explicitly endorsing Ms. Trump’s products, Ms. Conway appears to have violated these regulations. In addition, prior administrations issued policies making clear that these provisions apply to all White House employees, including the president. It is not known if President Trump has issued a similar policy for his administration, but if he has, Ms. Conway’s endorsement of Ms. Trump’s products also would likely violate it.

Federal law further prohibits the use of public funds for non-official purposes. Under 31 U.S.C. § 130l(a), “[a]ppropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made.” Appropriations for the Executive Office of the President were not made for the purpose of endorsing commercial products. By endorsing Ms. Trump’s products while acting in her official capacity, Ms. Conway appears to have violated the statute.

As the law makes clear, public officials should not use their offices for either their own private gain or the private gain of others. Government resources should be used for public purposes, not to promote any private party’s products. Ms. Conway appears to have violated both the letter and the spirit of these rules when she used her position to endorse the accessories and clothing line of Ms. Trump, the daughter of the president. Furthermore, we are concerned about what appears to be a pattern developing of the use of official offices, particularly the White House and the Executive Office of the President, to benefit business interests of relatives and supporters of the president; Ms. Conway’s comments appear to be just the latest example of this trend. We hope you will act not only to respond to this apparent violation, but to reverse this pattern. CREW therefore requests that you commence an investigation into Ms. Conway’s conduct and take any necessary disciplinary action against her.

Sincerely,

Noah Bookbinder
Executive Director
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

 

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