Trump Administration goes with Sgt Schultz approach to legal donations.
This troubling development got some coverage today – but not enough. The United States Office of Government Ethics[OGE] has quietly reversed an internal ruling that has, for decades, prohibited White House staffers from accepting anonymous donations to help pay legal fees. Now government employees can solicit and accept money from people that until this reversal, were specifically prohibited from donating money to them. Lobbyists, interest groups and other personnel affiliated with entities that have “business before the government” can donate cash to staffers. But, they have to do so ANONYMOUSLY.
Not surprisingly, the reversal of policy has ethics experts concerned. Marylin Glynn, a former acting director of the OGE noted that “You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in and make the debt go away.” Back in 1993, during the Clinton administration, a decision was made that such donations while technically legal, were morally questionable, and OGE advised staffers to refuse any such donations.
I have sympathy for the lower level staffers who have been dragged into the Russian investigation. A Vanity Fair article today noted that legal fees for an individual who gives a single interview to the FBI could run as high as $60,000. [That fact is worthy of its own investigation – how does one interview result in a $60,000 bill?]. But even the most naive young staffer had to know that this administration would include a clown car or two of folks with elastic ethical standards. Buyer beware.
And how, precisely, in Washington DC, does the fact that certain donations were made stay private? There are, on any given day any number of events where administration personnel rub shoulders with lobbyists and special interest personnel. All it takes is a quiet word while waiting at the bar or a passing remark on the stairway. And just like that some staffer with input into policy knows that a special interest group helped him get out from under crushing legal debt. Does that staffer remember that remark the next time there is a meeting to discuss policy affecting that special interest? Probably.
Former OCE Director Walter Shaub noted “it’s very depressing. It’s unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that.”
As a kid I was a huge fan of Hogan’s Heroes. Sergeant Schultz was one of my favorite characters. He didn’t see anything, hear anything or know anything. Even when he did.