Recent events have exposed weaknesses in the laws and norms meant to prevent Presidential corruption, undermining both Presidential financial transparency and the expectation that Presidents will not actively pursue business interests while in office.
Financial Conflict of Interest
Challenge: Regulation of financial conflicts of interests is spotty, and long-standing norms have proven inadequate in maintaining these protections.
Reform: Congress should bar the President from any role in the oversight of any business. It should require the President to account publicly for his income, holdings and management of assets and investments, prohibiting the use of “blind trusts” inconsistent with this transparency principle. It should also implement the Constitutional prohibition on emoluments by requiring the President and the business in which he holds an interest to report to Congress and the Office of Government Ethics. This report would include all interests in, and income reasonably anticipated or received from, foreign state investment vehicles or foreign-state-controlled businesses as specified by the Office of Government Ethics. Congress would make these disclosures public and would also have 60 days to consent to any reported foreign state income or interests. Absent such consent, the business would have to sell the interest and pay the proceeds to the U.S. Treasury. Moreover, presidents should be prohibited from “declining” their government salary, which vindicates the principle that the presidency is a full time job inconsistent with the pursuit of private business interests while in office.
Challenge: Presidents report financial interests only in summary fashion and publicly release tax returns only if they choose to do so, in accordance with a long- standing norm that has begun to erode.
Reform: Congress should legally mandate the public disclosure of Presidents’ (and Vice Presidents’) and Presidential (and Vice Presidential) candidates’ tax returns.