Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced legislation Thursday that would force presidents and vice presidents to resolve any financial conflicts of interest when taking office.
At present, federal officeholders are prohibited from engaging in government business when they stand to gain profit, but the president and vice president are currently exempt from that law. The Presidential Accountability Act (pdf) would remove that exemption and require the president and vice president to place their assets in a certified blind trust or disclose to both the public and the Office of Government Ethics when they make a decision that affects their personal finances.
As Clark points out, traditionally, presidents with personal business holdings have all used blind trusts or placed their assets in an investment vehicle over which they had no control. President-elect Donald Trump plans to turn control of the Trump Organization over to three of his adult children. Not only does the Trump Organization have a federal contract to operate a hotel in the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C., but Trump also has debt with foreign banks.
“The President-elect’s business interests present an unprecedented level of conflict,” Clark stated in her press release.
The Presidential Accountability Act would prohibit presidents from engaging in government responsibilities from which they or their families can benefit financially.
As the Associated Press reports, Trump’s personal interests clash with the public’s in his influence over government agencies whose decisions affect his business, such as the General Services Administration, through which Trump has a complex rental and management deal tied to the proposed hotel in the Old Post Office. As president, Trump will appoint the head of the GSA.
Deutsche Bank, one of foreign banks Trump is in debt to, is in settlement talks with the Justice Department over its involvement in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The president chooses the head of the Justice Department, too.
“The president of the United States has the power to affect how our tax dollars are spent, who the federal government does business with and the integrity of America’s standing in a global economy,” Clark said. “Every recent president in modern history has taken steps to ensure his financial interests do not conflict with the needs of the American people. The American people need to be able to trust that the president’s decisions are based on the best interests of families at home, and not the president’s financial interests.”