Rep. Huffman Introduces Bill to Strengthen Executive Branch Ethics Laws, Target Interior Department’s Industry Revolving Door

April 04, 2019

WASHINGTON—Legislation introduced today by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) will strengthen conflict-of-interest standards for political appointees in the executive branch, closing loopholes and elevating into federal law ethics standards that are currently up to the President to determine and enforce.

The bill builds on H.R. 1, House Democrats’ sweeping democracy reform legislation to end the culture of corruption in Washington, which passed the House in March, and responds to today’s news that Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continued to work as a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District for several months after he claimed to have stopped lobbying.

“Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee to be the most powerful regulator overseeing federal lands and waters, is a poster child for the corruption of the Trump administration,” said Rep. Huffman. “Congress must hold the executive branch accountable, and the law should not allow a walking conflict of interest like David Bernhardt to participate in the same agency decisions that he was recently paid to influence as a lobbyist. The Executive Appointee Ethics Improvement Act will shine a light on the troubling conflicts in the administration, stop the revolving door, and help ensure political appointees can’t use their public role for their own private financial gain.”

“The unprecedented ethical lapses in the Trump administration multiply every day, and we commend Congressman Huffman for introducing the Executive Appointee Ethics Improvement Act,” said Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs at the nonpartisan watchdog Common Cause. “This common-sense legislation would help prevent administration officials who are former lobbyists, consultants, or ‘special advisers’ from using their positions in government to line their pockets, which has become common practice in this administration."

Huffman’s Executive Appointee Ethics Improvement Act would give the force of law to the current five-year revolving door lobbying ban, compel public disclosure any time that an executive branch official is granted a waiver from complying with that ban, and put in place strict restrictions for former lobbyists selected for top federal agency positions.

The Executive Appointee Ethics Improvement Act codifies several proposals called for by President Trump during his campaign and includes other reforms:

  • Five Year Lobbying Ban: Codifies President Trump’s five-year lobbying ban on former appointees and requires that any waivers to the ban are published in the Federal Register and accompanied by a detailed description of the reasons the waiver was provided. Current law included a limited two-year lobbying ban with certain waiver authority;
  • Two Year Cooling-Off Period: Increases from one year to two years the existing “cooling off period” prohibiting communication between former appointees and any officer or employee of the department or agency in which they served; 
  • Permanent Ban on Former Appointees Working for Any Foreign Government or Foreign Political Party: Prohibits a former appointee from register to lobby on behalf of a foreign government or foreign political party;
  • Revolving Door Ban – All Appointees Entering Government: Prohibits for two years appointees from participating in any matter that is directly or substantially related to a former employer or former clients, including regulations or contracts;
  • Revolving Door Ban – Lobbyists Entering Government: Prohibits individuals who were a registered lobbyist or engaged in lobbying activities during any time two years prior to appointment from participating in any matter on which they lobbied or from seeking employment with an executive agency they lobbied for two years; and
  • Lobbying Disclosure: Amends the Lobbying Disclosure Act to require lobbyists to tell the public when they meet with administration officials.