Months after deadline, financial disclosures for Mnuchin, DeVos, Ross still not public
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has released his financial disclosure, revealing new details about his employment with a “dark money”-funded nonprofit and prompting concerns from oversight groups.
But as scrutiny over Whitaker’s finances ramps up, little attention is paid to the fact that annual financial disclosures for three important Trump Administration cabinet members — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — have yet to be released as required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
The three officials released financial disclosures as part of the Senate confirmation process last year, but annual personal disclosure forms laying out their 2017 finances are still not public. Most Trump administration cabinet members — and President Donald Trump himself — filed their annual disclosures this summer by the May 15 deadline.
Though financial disclosures are required by law, enforcement measures are lacking. The penalty for failing to produce the disclosure on time is a $200 late fee, according to guidelines from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE).
“There’s been complete compliance with this system for decades,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research. “It’s one of those things that has always been undergirded by norms but is insufficiently protected by laws. It’s a mandatory system, but it’s just not mandatory in a manner that it has legal teeth.”
The maximum extension past the May 15 deadline is 90 days — Ross was given a 90-day extension, bringing the deadline to mid-August — but their disclosures could still be under review by OGE.
OGE posts financial disclosure forms on its website shortly after they are certified by the agency and does not reveal its review process of specific financial disclosures, said an OGE spokesperson.
Still, the deadlines are beyond passed, and Hauser is concerned that the public may never know what financial ties the various secretaries have that could affect their policy decisions.
Each of the three cabinet members drew scrutiny when they released their initial financial disclosures. DeVos’s disclosure form revealed connections to student loan debt collectors and for-profit colleges. Ross generated confusion and suspicion when he listed fewer than half of his total assets in his 2017 disclosure. Mnuchin failed to disclose roughly $100 million in assets.
Mnuchin has not released a transaction report — required under the 2012 STOCK Act when a member of government makes any transaction involving stocks or securities — since August 2017. Mnuchin reported selling several of his investments in 2017 through four transaction reports but still has numerous securities on his books. Ross and DeVos actively release transaction reports.
“It’s very hard to hold as much wealth as he does and not have a transaction report in that amount of time,” Hauser said.
The lack of financial transparency from some Trump administration officials is causing good government groups to rethink how ethics laws should be approached. Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a report in October suggesting a series of changes to ethics policy and arguing that “ethics and transparency norms must be given the strength of law.”
Hauser said the incoming Democratic leaders of the relevant committees can and should subpoena the cabinet members over their finances.
“I think it’s an unprecedented lack of congressional oversight that has created a culture and an assumption that you can get away with this stuff,” Hauser said. “I’m hoping the House Democrats dig deep into oversight.”
Various incoming Democratic chairpersons have already pledged to launch investigations into possible ethics and conflict of interest violations. DeVos and Ross are expected to be two of their most popular targets.
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