The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has reverted to an internal policy allowing lobbyists to make anonymous donations to White House staffers’ legal defense funds.
The move could potentially help members of the Trump administration pay for attorneys as the Russia investigations continue.
During the Clinton presidency, a 1993 OGE document authorized the anonymous donations before the ethics office advised against it, Politico reported.
Marilyn Glynn, the agency’s acting director under George W. Bush who spent 17 years in the office, told Politico, “It wasn’t in the interest of the public to have people guessing who really is donating here. We preferred more sunshine in the process.”
But the document was never officially revised to reflect the practices within the office until the OGE director Walter Schaub initiated a review before the 2016 election, saying he was worried the new administration would abide by the 1993 guidance.
As the OGE juggled more pressing matters during the transition, Schaub said he ordered a note be added to the document to reflect the disparity.
It read, “NOTE: SOME STATEMENTS IN THIS OPINION ARE NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.”
After Shaub stepped down in July, his addendum was removed and replaced with a new note emphasizing that the written statement on legal expenses from 1993 “HAS NOT CHANGED”.
The new note also states “HOWEVER, BECAUSE EACH ANALYSIS IS VERY FACT-SPECIFIC, AGENCY ETHICS OFFICIALS SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR OGE DESK OFFICER BEFORE ADVISING EMPLOYEES ON THIS TOPIC.”
Schaub told Politico, “It’s very depressing. It’s unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that.”
The White House later issued a statement saying it was not soliciting legal defense funds or pushing to allow anonymous donations.