Why Scrutiny and Recusal Are Required to Avoid the Appearance of Impropriety
For more than 20 years, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General of the United States, has actively sought and accepted campaign contributions from many of the very companies he will be called upon to investigate or prosecute should he be confirmed, according to a report published today by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director, said:
“When 97 big money donors to Sen. Sessions have active dealings with the Justice Department, it’s essential to stop and take notice. But the whirlwind of activities this week -- ten confirmation hearings, a budget vote on healthcare, and Trump’s first major press conference -- threatens to drown out important news.
The hearings for the nation’s top law enforcement official, or any of the cabinet nominees, should not be a shell game in which it’s all too easy to take your eyes off the target. That would be a great disservice to the democratic process.”
Today’s report finds that 286 corporations, trade associations, lobbying or law firms, PACs, and their employees were responsible for more than $4 million of contributions to Senator Sessions’ campaign committee and leadership PAC in the last decade. Of those, one-third (97) have known matters involving the Department of Justice (DOJ):
- 56 have a lawsuit, active consent decree/settlement, or public investigation pending before DOJ;
- 20 are large lobbying firms that tout their access to and ability to lobby DOJ;
- 12 are major trade associations that represent members who are being sued or investigated by DOJ; and
- 9 are companies that are government contractors with current or recent contracts with DOJ.
If confirmed, Senator Sessions would be only the fourth politician in the last 50 years who conducted recent fundraising activity before becoming Attorney General.
In order to assure the public that the potential conflicts raised by the donations are being taken seriously, the report calls on Senator Sessions to commit to a process for evaluating his campaign finance record and any resulting ethical issues in advance of taking his oath of office.
It also says he should agree to a bright-line recusal rule and to following clear ethical standards that will avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with previous financial supporters.