Executive branch legal defense funds will be disclosed

Nearly two years after Public Citizen petitioned, the Office of Government Ethics will draft rules for executive branch legal defense funds

  • CONTRIBUTION LIMITS to curb the influence of donors over officials
  • PROHIBITIONS on money from certain sources, like lobbyists, corporations and foreign nationals
  • FULL TRANSPARENCY of the sources and expenditures of legal defense funds

Nearly all members of Congress who have faced legal trouble or allegations of ethical violations have set up a legal defense fund. Lobbyists or foreign principals cannot donate to these funds, and the expenditures must be made public.

But no such rules exist for legal defense funds set up by officials in the executive branch, which includes the White House and regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department.

On Sept. 15, 2017, Public Citizen petitioned the Office of Government Ethics to create regulations for executive branch legal defense funds, using the rules for congressional defense funds as a roadmap.

Public Citizen asked that the rules include contribution limits, to limit the ability of a donor to influence the official; prohibitions on accepting money from certain sources such as lobbyists, corporations and foreign nationals; and full transparency of the sources and expenditures of legal defense funds, so the public can be assured that the funds are not being used for methods of political favor.

In April 2019, the OGE announced that it will draft rules for legal defense contributions to the executive branch concerning disclosure requirements, contribution limits and prohibition toward certain funding sources.

Since Public Citizen submitted its petition to the OGE in 2017, executive branch legal defense funds continued to stay unregulated. However, the agency’s announcement in April is a confident first step in the fight for regulations.

The OGE should have drafted rules about legal defense funds for executive branch personnel a long time ago. Its announcement, however, is better late than never. Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Highlights

  • For the first time, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is drafting rules that will regulate contributions to executive branch legal defense funds.
  • Public Citizen petitioned the OGE on Sept. 15, 2017, to use rules for legal defense funds for congressional lawmakers as a template for executive branch legal defense funds.
  • The OGE will draft rules similar to what Public Citizen asked for.