Kellyanne Conway used her television appearance, in her capacity as a member of the White House, to promote the business of the president's daughter. This is another violation of norms — and potentially of federal law — regarding the financial interests of the First Family.
Kellyanne Conway has taken kleptocracy under the Trump administration from the implied to the overt in her most recent comments on Fox News. Turning her appearance into a literal advertisement for Ivanka Trump’s line of apparel, Conway told viewers:
Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, but I am going to go get some myself today. This is just — it’s a wonderful line, I own some of it, I’m just gonna give a free commercial here, go buy it today, you can buy it online.
Kleptocracy is government by leaders seeking status and personal enrichment at the expense of the governed. For example, when Donald Trump attacked Nordstrom via Twitter for discontinuing his daughter Ivanka’s line in their stores — a tweet that was then retweeted by the official U.S. @POTUS account — he once again erased the lines between his family’s business dealings and the office of the presidency.
Jordan Libowitz, Communications Director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), declared about Trump’s tweets: “It’s absolutely unprecedented that the president would use his office to attack an American company for not doing business with his family. It raises questions about all of his actions as to whether they are done in the best interest of the American people, or this best interest of the Trump family bottom line.”
And Conway, whose salary is paid by taxpayer dollars, further provided the president’s daughter’s business a “free commercial” and thousands of dollars of paid broadcasting advertising value while appearing on television in her capacity as a member of the government.
Federal law prohibits the use of a government office for personal gain and specifically prohibits the endorsement of any “product, service, or enterprise,” except within some very narrow circumstances:
Larry Noble, former General Counsel for the Federal Election Commission, stated that he believes Conway might have violated this ban on endorsements:
Appears Kellayanne Conway may have just violated ban on Federal employee using public office for endorsement of product. 5 CFR 2635.702 https://t.co/mIvngSHCnk
— Larry Noble (@LarryNoble_DC) February 9, 2017
Over and over again, we have seen Trump and his administration ignore the legal requirements for distinct separations between the president, other federal employees, and their personal business entities. In a particularly stark example, in a lawsuit against a media outlet, First Lady Melania Trump’s attorney’s openly stated that, as First Lady, Mrs. Trump had a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
There is no doubt this administration is proceeding to distort the operation of the White House to meet its kleptocratic goals. The only question now is will the GOP led House Ethics Committee ever hold them accountable.
Update: CREW has filed an ethics complaint against Conway for her comments. In a statement, CREW noted:
Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway’s official endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s products from the White House this morning was an apparent violation of federal law, ethics regulations and other standards of conduct, according to complaints filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the Office of Government Ethics and White House Counsel’s Office.
“The law is clear that public officials should not use their offices for their own private gain or the private gain of others,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “It’s hard to find a clearer case of that kind of misuse of office than we saw today.”
“This is just another example of what looks like a disturbing pattern of this administration acting to benefit the businesses of the president’s family and supporters,” Bookbinder said. “Americans are unfortunately at the point where they have to question who the Trump administration is looking out for, the American people or the Trump family.”