Watchdog Releases Top Ethics Violators in Government of 2021

There are many ways individuals running the U.S. government can run afoul of laws and guidelines intended to curb the abuse of power. From personal financial disclosures to Hatch Act violations to a misuse of government resources or using taxpayer funds for political purposes, there are a lot of rules that our elected and appointed leaders tend to flaunt for personal gain. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a nonpartisan ethics watchdog, released its list of 2021’s “Top Ethics Violators” within American government who apparently decided the rules didn’t apply to them.

According to FACT’s Executive Director Kendra Arnold, “2021 saw numerous government officials abusing their office for financial and political gain in a range of ethics cases. In a disturbing trend this year, we saw many members of Congress fail to disclose their stock transactions as federal law requires, which can conceal both conflicts of interest and wrongfully profiting from non-public information,” Arnold added. 

Topping FACT’s list for 2021 is Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). As FACT explains, it filed two complaints against Malinowski in 2021: One for failing to disclose “up to 90 stock trades valued between $671,000 and $2.6 million in 2020,” and a second for continuing to trade stocks without filing proper disclosures after “it was made public that he had failed to comply with the law.”

As FACT explains, “the Office of Congressional Ethics investigated, and found that despite having monthly statements containing the information needed to file his disclosure report and reminders from his staff, Malinowski failed to report transactions made between January 2019 and January 2021. Then after these failures became public and the OCE began its investigation, Malinowski again filed late reports. Moreover, even in the corrective filings Malinowski made and his 2019 financial disclosure report, the OCE found other additional ‘errors and omissions.'” Investigations into Malinowski’s actions by the Office of Congressional Ethics and House Ethics Committee are ongoing.

The next ethics violator to make FACT’s list is Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) for promising federal employment to a potential primary opponent in order to dissuade a competitor from entering her race for Congress. As FACT explained in its complaint concerning Newman filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Illinois Democrat promised fellow congressional hopeful Iyman Chehade “government employment should she win the election,” an offer that was unwisely expressed in a written contract. That contract offered Chehade a spot on Newman’s staff, a salary of between $135,000 and $140,000, and a private office, vacation time, and benefits. 

After Chehade agreed not to run against Newman in the primary, Newman won her election but didn’t keep her side of the deal. Chehade subsequently sued Newman for breach of contract, exposing the deal that FACT says violated a law preventing candidates for the House from trading political support for government employment. The Office of Congressional Ethics referred FACT’s concerns to the House Ethics Committee where an investigation is ongoing.

Also on FACT’s list: Biden Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who the watchdog says violated the Hatch Act repeatedly. FACT points to an October interview in which Granholm talked about electing Democrats to help Biden pass his “Build Back Better” budget. But while acting in her official capacity as a cabinet official — with the seal of the Department of Energy behind her — Granholm is prohibited from encouraging voters to elect progressive Democrats, the watchdog explains.

Weeks later, Granholm would again draw FACT’s attention for tweeting a message from her official Department of Energy account urging residents in Maine to vote a specific way on a ballot initiative. FACT requested that the Office of Special Counsel investigate Granholm’s apparent Hatch Act violations twice in 2021. 

Back on Capitol Hill, FACT also lists Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) as one of 2021’s top ethics violators for reportedly failing to disclose financial transactions in a timely manner as required and allegedly using campaign committee funds to attend a wedding abroad. 

As FACT explains, the watchdog filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics after the New York Democrat failed to “disclose financial transactions well after the 45-day window” including “eight stock transactions valued at $11,051” made in June of 2020 and not reported until April of 2021. 

FACT filed an additional complaint against Maloney seeking a Federal Elections Commission investigation of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Rep, Maloney “for suspect spending.” The situation at issue involves a DCCC purchase of an $813 Air France ticket that coincided with Maloney’s travel to France and Italy. As FACT explains, the DCCC “claimed that the ticket was purchased ‘to conduct DCCC business with Americans living overseas'” but Maloney posted photos of himself at a wedding in France. 

Rounding out the list of top ethics violators in 2021 is Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) who serves as Assistant Speaker of the House. FACT called for an investigation into Clark “for failing to disclose 19 personal stock transactions by her husband within the 45 day time-frame” in which filings must be made. The stocks involved included Alphabet, Inc., Best Buy, BlackRock Inc., and others. 

The transactions were valued between $19,019 and $285,000 and, despite the transactions taking place on June 4, they weren’t reported until August 15, according to FACT. 

“These types of cases especially erode public trust in our governmental system, and because of this it’s crucial to hold those who break these rules accountable for their actions,” said FACT’s Arnold of its review of the year’s ethical quandaries. “The ethics laws are in place for a reason and are essential for government to function in a credible, transparent manner.”