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Pres. Trump Appointed a Lobbyist for a Financial Services Company to Work on Tax and Retirement Policy & Legislation

Assessment

 

Pres. Trump has appointed a former lobbyist for a financial services company as a special assistant with a role in shaping the policies that have direct implications for the profitably of that company.

 

And to do so, he granted a waiver to the section of the White House ethics pledge which specifically forbids former lobbyists from working on issues related to their former employers.

Moreover, the administration initially kept this information hidden from the public by issuing Knight's ethics waiver in secret

 

This decision shows that the Trump White House ethics pledge means absolutely nothing.

The Trump administration is actively working to hand control of the state over to private interests, in secret if necessary.  

 

A former Treasury Department official reportedly told Politico that the financial services industry “has been very comforted by [Knight’s] role in the White House” because “they view her as one of their own.” 

 

We couldn't sum the point of this essay up any better. 

Published: January 30, 2018, Updated: March 6, 2018

The Trump White House Ethics Pledge

U.S. law gives the president the authority to prescribe regulations for the conduct of executive branch employees:

"The President may prescribe regulations for the conduct of employees in the executive branch."

 

- 5 U.S.C. § 7301 (2016)

 

On January 28, 2017, Pres. Trump exercised this authority by signing Executive Order 13770 into effect.

 

(Click here to learn about executive orders.) 

 

This executive order, entitled “Ethics Commitments By Executive Branch Appointees,” specifies the ethics commitments Pres. Trump’s executive branch appointees are ostensibly expected to uphold.

 

Every White House staff member was required to sign the ethics pledge, contractually committing them to abide by it.

 

If a staff member violates the pledge, it is then up to the White House to determine whether it warrants disciplinary action.

(Click here to learn more about White House ethics pledges.)

 

One of the provisions contained in the ethics pledge is a two year restriction on former lobbyists working in the Trump White House participating in matters related to any lobbying they had done within the past two years:

 

“If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment ..... I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment or participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls.”

- E.O. 13770 of January 28, 2017, section 1, paragraph 7 

 

However, Pres. Trump, like his predecessor, chose to reserve the right to issue exemptions to this ethics pledge.

 

The ethics pledge contains a specific provision which allows Pres. Trump or a designee to grant any of his appointees a waiver which exempts the appointee from certain restrictions in the ethics pledge:

"The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person."

E.O. 13770 of January 28, 2017, section 3(a)

Ethics Waiver for Shahira Knight, Special Assistant to the President on Tax and Retirement Policy

 

Until May 31, 2017, the Trump administration had been issuing ethics waivers to its staff in secret

 

And it's no wonder the administration attempted to keep its waivers secret: when the administration finally released the ethics waivers to the public, after pressure from outside watchdog groups, it was revealed that the administration had been issuing waivers allowing former lobbyists who have now taken positions in the administration to work on the exact issues they had previously lobbied on.

(To learn about who lobbyists are and what they do, click here.)

One of the ethics waivers allows a former energy industry lobbyist to work on energy and environmental policy.

Another allows a former insurance industry lobbyist to advise on reforming an insurance industry regulator.

And one of the ethics waivers was issued on behalf of Shahira Knight

On February 27, 2017, it was announced that Shahira Knight would be Pres. Trump’s Special Assistant for Tax and Retirement Policy

And on February 2, 2018, Knight was promoted to deputy director for economic affairs. 

However lobbyist disclosure forms reveal that, prior to taking this position, Knight worked as a lobbyist for FMR LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments, a financial services firm which offers retirement and investment services.

(To learn about lobbyist disclosure forms, click here.)

While working for Fidelity, Knight lobbied on issues related to the tax treatment of financial products, systemic risk legislation, and systemic risk regulation.  

The ethics waiver issued on her behalf exempts Knight from the ethics pledge's restriction on working on these policy areas inside administration.

The ethics waiver thus puts Knight in a position to push for the changes Fidelity was lobbying for from inside the White House, no lobbying disclosure forms needed.

A Fidelity Investments branch office in Washington D.C. Photograph: Corruption Watch.