Candidates urged to lay out ethics commitments
Integrity advocates say Clinton has been more open in campaign than Trump
President Obama’s allies often tout his record on ethics and transparency in the White House.
He limited hires of federal lobbyists, and he barred them from funding his campaigns and inaugural events. He broke ground by publicly releasing the logs of who visits the White House.
It’s not clear whether either candidate vying to succeed him would maintain those standards.
Democrat Hillary Clinton accepts campaign money from lobbyists and relies on them to collect political donations from others. In all, federal lobbyists have raised a little more than $7 million on her behalf through the end of June. Clinton discloses the names of people who raise money on her behalf. Republican Donald Trump has not.
In an election that has seen everyone from Trump to Clinton’s vanquished rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, rail against a “rigged” system in Washington, government-integrity advocates say Clinton has far exceeded Trump’s level of disclosure on everything from tax returns to top fundraisers. They’d like the candidates to detail the ethics policies they would enact if elected.
“It’s remarkable that post-Labor Day, we don’t have a commitment from either candidate on these meaningful transparency issues,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center.
Neither campaign responded to interview requests on the topic — even as they face fresh transparency questions this week.
Clinton, 68, fell ill Sunday, and her aides acknowledged they mishandled the situation by waiting two days to disclose a pneumonia diagnosis. Clinton’s camp promised to release more medical details in the coming days. So has Trump, who said he underwent a medical examination in the past week. He is scheduled to do an hour-long interview on the topic Thursday on The Dr. Oz Show.
Previous details about Trump’s health came from a four-paragraph letter from his physician, Harold Bornstein, which said the 70-year-old would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
“It’s remarkable that post-Labor Day, we don’t have a commitment from either candidate on these meaningful transparency issues.” Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center
Last year, Clinton released a nearly two-page letter from her doctor that pronounced her in “excellent physical condition” and spelled out test results and a number of conditions, such hyperthyroidism.
Eight years ago, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, let reporters view more than 1,100 pages of his medical history to quell concerns about his health. McCain is a cancer survivor who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
In 2008, a theme of Obama’s presidential campaign was a drive to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington and create a more open government. On his first day in office, Obama signed an executive order that barred former federal lobbyists from working for agencies they had lobbied during the previous two years. He barred his appointees from lobbying their ex-colleagues for two years after leaving the government, although critics note that hasn’t stopped a stream of former aides from taking lucrative government-affairs jobs.
“One can certainly criticize his transparency record, but you can’t say it wasn’t part of his agenda,” said John Wonderlich of the non-profit Sunlight Foundation. This year, he said, “transparency is coming up in a negative, accusatory aspect, rather than: ‘How we can we run the government better?’ ”
Clinton, who has released nearly 40 years of tax returns, has hammered Trump over his refusal to release his. He has cited an ongoing IRS audit as the obstacle. Presidential candidates aren’t required to release their tax returns, but every major-party nominee has done so for the past four decades.
Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that Trump would make his taxes public “when his lawyers and his accountants tell him that he should release them.”
Trump’s camp routinely casts Clinton as corrupt, slamming her for erasing thousands of emails on the private server she used as secretary of State and granting State Department access to Clinton Foundation donors.
McGehee, other government watchdogs and Clinton allies say the former secretary of State remains far ahead of Trump on transparency.
“It doesn’t compare,” said Norman Eisen, who served as Obama’s top ethics lawyer in the White House. “Hillary Clinton has promised to redress Citizens United, and Mr. Trump has brought the head of Citizens United into his campaign!” he said, referring to the appointment of veteran conservative activist David Bossie as Trump’s deputy campaign manager.
Until recently, Bossie ran Citizens United, the group whose case before the Supreme Court led to a blockbuster decision in 2010 allowing unlimited corporate and union money in candidate elections.
Obama’s executive order on ethics will remain in force after he leaves office, but the next president can opt to rescind it or replace it with his or her own ethics policy. There are signs that Clinton aides are devising one. Her camp has reached out to watchdogs to gather more ideas on ethics, McGehee said.
Trump has made blanket statements about Obama’s orders, and in a speech Monday, he pledged to “immediately terminate every single unconstitutional executive order” Obama has signed.