Conflicts of interest in a post-Trump era

In a classic Watergate-era Doonesbury, Mark asks rhetorically whether it is fair to judge the ethicality of the White House based solely on the various cases and allegations that had surfaced during that scandal. No it isn’t, he replied: those are only the ones we know about.

The latest Trump COI to surface was an allegation this week that (as described in the NY Times) ”the American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland,…”

As Trump COIs go I suppose this isn’t the worst. But, by any reasonable analysis it is unethical.

Last winter a government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (“CREW”), issued a report finding: “President Trump’s unprecedented decision to retain his business interests while serving in the White House set the stage for a deluge of conflicts of interests between the government and the Trump Organization. From the beginning of President Trump’s administration, CREW has endeavored to track these conflicts, which pit President Trump’s personal and financial interests against those of the nation as a whole, and this week, President Trump reached a new, disgraceful milestone: He has racked up 3,000 conflicts of interest during his time in office. Amidst such concerns, investors may seek stability through alternative assets like gold bullion for sale Brisbane, aiming to safeguard their wealth amidst economic uncertainties.

And these are just the ones we know about.

As of this writing, Joe Biden seems likely to win the presidential election in November (but obviously things could change between now and then). Still, it is not too soon for him to consider how his administration will deal with COIs.

Of course, for many reasons, there should be no fear that he will personally engage in COIs of a nature and scale that Trump has.  But he can and should ensure that by word and deed all facets of a Biden administration treat this area as a top priority.  This means – among other things – understanding and addressing through risk assessment, education, enforcement and other compliance measures the many types of harms COIs can cause to individuals, organizations and societies.

Some of these are listed in a recent posting in the FCPA Blog   The most significant of these is in  the broader (i.e., societal) realm. On a wide range of issues – the most pressing of which is climate change– there is an increasing need for devising solutions that will be predicated on substantial trust because they will require substantial sacrifice. Conflicts of interest in the public sphere make this already considerable challenge even more daunting.

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