Money in Politics Snapshots

The most important things happening in the world of money in politics and ethics.

Each month, we sort through the news to to give you a rundown of the most important things that happened in the world of money in politics and ethics. From the executive to the legislative branch, to state-level fights and beyond, our handpicked “snapshots” are what you need to know if, like most Americans, you’re ready to return government to the people.

January 2017

Here are three things from January 2017 that you need to know:


  1. President Trump’s conflict of interest saga continues
  • Donald J. Trump, elected in part on promises to “drain the swamp,” was sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States.
  • Trump’s first press conference made clear that he would not put his assets in a blind trust, instead turning over control to his children, leaving the public with more questions than answers as to how, if at all, his administration would avoid conflicts of interest.
  • A prominent bipartisan group of lawyers, including White House ethics advisers and Issue One advisory board members Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, launched a suit in an attempt to answer the pressing question of whether President Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
  • President Trump maintained his refusal to release his tax returns—yet that remains the only way the public can know for certain whether or not conflicts exist.
  • Additionally, President Trump fulfilled his promise to sign an executive order addressing executive branch ethics and the revolving door, though it was not made a day-one priority.
  • Ethics experts, including Issue One’s own Chief of Policy, Programs and Strategy Meredith McGehee, pointed out that, although much of the executive order mirrors President Obama’s own, there are several notable omissions. And at points, it actually strengthens the previous order.
  • A number of President Trump’s cabinet nominees have also faced ethical issues, including: Betsy DeVos, Steve MnuchinScott PruittAndrew Puzder, Rex Tillerson.


  1. Congress tries (and fails) to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics
  • In the dead of the night on a holiday, right before the 115th Congress convened, House GOP leaders attempted to gut the independent, bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
  • The Office was established in 2008 after the Jack Abramoff scandal showed the House Ethics Committee was unable to conduct credible investigations into allegations of congressional ethics violations.
  • The office is the only source for a credible investigation into congressional ethics, and as such, is little-loved by some elements in each party.
  • After a flood of calls and emails from livid constituents, fueled by intense scrutiny from journalists and groups like Issue One, House leadership took the unprecedented step to pull the proposal.
  • One little-noticed piece of the OCE amendment that did pass taints its bipartisan integrity. The amendment eliminates the requirement that both party leaders sign off on those individuals appointed to the OCE’s board. This makes clear that despite our early victory, the reform community must remain vigilant to further attacks on ethics in Congress.


  1. A fight for ethics reform in deep-red South Dakota unfolds
  • The South Dakota Legislature declared a “state of emergency” in order to repeal the state’s voter-approved Anti-Corruption Act.
  • Lawmakers claimed the measure is overly broad and perhaps unconstitutional, and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard even asserted that voters were somehow ‘’misled’’ by the ballot initiative.
  • The attempt to ram through the repeal invited comparisons to the embarrassing OCE drama.
  • National attention and public outcry (and even calls from Republicans to slow down the process) caused the vote to be delayed one week. Despite this, the South Dakota Senate voted to repeal the measures. It now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk, where he is expected to sign the repeal bill.


January 2017 Snapshot

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