Trump administration should shoulder the burden of developing new ethical standards

This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It is in response to an earlier editorial about Donald Trump’s business interests.

The Journal is right to chastise Washington for its ethics double standard when it comes to the treatment of business folks versus public-interest lawyers (“The Trump Family Political Business,” Review & Outlook, Nov. 18). It is critical to have rules to protect against individuals entering public service — or their clients — profiting from that service. The Trump transition team’s Code of Ethical Conduct covers the basic conflict of interest issues — officials suspending activities on behalf of clients while serving and promising not to use any nonpublic information to enrich themselves or others once the team’s work is completed. These moves are intended to prevent sweetheart deals or special treatment in the future.

Business folks and public-interest types are indeed treated differently under the law, but they are not treated unfairly. People with large business holdings can be compromised in ways that public-interest types can’t. Businessmen can potentially profit personally from decisions that they make in their official capacity. What matters is whether those business folks take measures to assure the public that they are not making decisions to enrich themselves.

It is imperative that the new administration shoulder its share of the burden of developing new ethical standards to rebuild the diminished public confidence in our government.