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Leon Kaye headshot

Ivanka Bangle Showcases Conflict of Interest in the Trump Era

By Leon Kaye

New York Times journalist Eric Lipton was among the many who raised an eyebrow or two after noticing that Ivanka Trump’s jewelry company was quick to pounce at the opportunity to use her father’s presidency as yet another marketing tool.

Shortly after Donald Trump and members of his family were interviewed on 60 Minutes, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry sent a “style alert” to journalists to inform them that a bracelet that she wore during the segment could be purchased for $10,800.

Whether Ivanka Trump and her siblings will follow in the footsteps of past presidential family embarrassments such as Billy Carter, Neil Bush and Roger Clinton remains to be seen. Nevertheless, events over the past week show that the Trump Administration could present some of the largest conflicts of interest in recent history. And at a time when companies promise more transparency about their relationships with government, Trump wants the public to believe his presidency and his business interests will be separate because, as he has told the press, he said so.

But with Trump's three older children named to his presidential transition team, keeping his presidency and his businesses separate will be a tall order. On that point, over the past four decades, presidents dating back to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have placed their assets into a blind trust. Trump insists he is doing the same, only that his children will manage his business affairs.

Such a move is hardly a blind trust, as Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush Administration, argued yesterday in the Washington Post. Blind trusts in the past were administered by someone with no family ties, and that person in turn manages, buys and sells assets independently. That is what makes a blind trust “blind.”

Trump and his allies reply that with about 500 businesses under The Trump Organization umbrella, “it’s complicated.” Well, of course such a business portfolio would be complex. But enough of those businesses have ties in countries with which the U.S. has sensitive, even prickly, financial and diplomatic connections – including China and the Middle East, regions to which Trump directed much of his ire during the campaign. Then there are the questions about those businesses and properties that were developed due in part to government subsidies and tax incentives, both here in the U.S. and abroad.

The problem is that there is no U.S. federal law that requires the president to relinquish his or her business holdings and assets upon taking office. In the wake of the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Congress passed, with Jimmy Carter’s signature, the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. That legislation instructs members of Congress to recuse themselves from legislation that could have an impact on their personal financial interests. But no such rules are imposed on the executive branch, as lawmakers at the time believed the presidency was already complicated and exhaustive enough. Presidents and vice presidents are also exempt from most other federal ethics statutes, as well as bans against receiving large gifts.

The time has come to rethink this policy.

With Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote approaching 1 million as of press time, Trump must start sending messages to the majority of voters who did not support him that he is fair, transparent and ready to govern without the distractions of his business empire. The only solutions are to sell off his beloved properties and other assets; arrange for The Trump Organization to launch an IPO and form a public company independent from the Trump family; or, as a compromise, transition those assets into a trust that is run separately from anyone with the Trump name. A 70-year-old man who will become president needs to focus on the nation’s problems and challenges without the distraction of his businesses for the next four years – and set an example for the U.S. and global business communities that he's committed to avoiding ethical distractions in the process.

Image credit: Eric Lipton/Twitter

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye