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. At the very least, his fundraising suggests relationships that are in tension with the impartial administration of justice.
In the last decade, Senator Sessions’ campaign committee and leadership PAC have accepted more than $6.3 million from corporations, trade associations, lobbying or law firms, PACs, and their employees. There were two hundred and eighty-six entities whose cumulative contribution equaled or exceeded $5,000 each.
Fundraising of this nature is standard for elected officials. However, it becomes a matter of concern when an elected official moves into a new role where his or her relationships with past donors could suggest the appearance of bias or partiality.
Of the 286 top donors, fully one-third (97) have current, known matters involving the Department of Justice. Fifty-six have a lawsuit, active consent decree/settlement, or public investigation pending before DOJ; a further 20 are large lobbying firms that tout their access to and ability to lobby DOJ; another 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 fifty 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, Senator Sessions should commit to a process for evaluating his campaign finance record and any resulting ethical issues in advance of taking his oath of office. 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.