Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act of 2019,” which addresses and aims to reform some of the most egregious ethical loopholes used by Trump administration appointees, including ex-lobbyist turned Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, to benefit special interests and corporate lobbyists. In response to the bill’s passage, Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger issued the following statement:
Former lobbyist David Bernhardt is arguably the most conflicted nominee for Interior Secretary in American history. H.R. 1 would go a long way toward stopping his corruption from endangering our Western public lands and way of life. We applaud Congress for rising to the challenge presented by an administration that treats iconic Western landscapes like a prize they can use to enrich their political allies. We call on the Senate to pass an identical companion bill.”
H.R. 1 would address important ethical issues that Acting Interior Secretary and former lobbyist David Bernhardt is currently entwined in.
Among other important provisions, it would create criminal penalties for federal officials who participate in any particular matter that a former employer or client has an interest in.
Western Values Project has documented several former clients of Bernhardt’s that have business before Interior who appear to be receiving favorable treatment since his appointment. Several ethics groups have questioned and asked for an investigation to determine whether Bernhardt was involved in a particular matter based on a report by The New York Times involving his former client. Interior ethics officials crafted a memo with their legal interpretations and issued it shortly after additional investigation requests poured in.
H.R. 1 also requires that any waivers from the ethics rule be written and posted publicly.
Bernhardt claimed that he received ‘verbal approval’ before acting on behalf of this former client, Westlands Water District. However, outside of any formal documentation, it may not be possible for investigators or Congress to determine if a violation occurred. H.R. 1 would provide accountability and public transparency by requiring officials to document waivers and post them publicly.
The bill and these important revisions to government ethics laws will now need to be considered in the Senate.