Oversight and Transparency Bill Critical Steps
Article originally published in the Las Vegas Sun
By Robert Weiner and Jared Schwartz
There is no day that defines the institution of the Presidency more than the inauguration. From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address to JFK's first, inauguration day is a celebration of peaceful transfer of power. Yet according to FEC filings and reporting by OpenSecrets, of the $106 million raised, more than double the amount by either of Obama's inaugurations, it is still almost entirely unclear how most was spent.
A presidency begun under dubious financial circumstances is an administration created in suspicion, and clearing that suspicion up is crucial to protecting the presidency. U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) has introduced the Inaugural Committee Transparency Act in Congress, which would require a public record of where inaugural committee funds go. The Inaugural Committee Transparency Act is a logical, narrowly drawn bill to counteract any misuse of campaign funds.
This legislation would be a key step to make sure that presidential administrations are free from corruption at their outset. Greg Jenkins, who organized George W. Bush's inauguration, told Rolling Stone that "they had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did. So there's the obvious question: Where did it go? I don't know."
The New York Times indicates that $25 million went to Hargrove Inc., a company that traditionally manages inaugurations. $26 million was paid to WIS Media, a firm owned by a friend of the First Lady, which was created six weeks before the inauguration. A little over $10 million went to three other event-planning companies, and $5 million went to charity, leaving a total of $40 million entirely unaccounted for.
Both the obvious ethical problems posed by giving $26 million to a family friend and the unaccounted millions demand congressional investigation and action. How can tens of millions of dollars go missing, right at the start of a presidency, and not trigger any congressional investigation?
These issues are being swept under the rug because congressional Republicans, who now run investigations, have neither the will nor, by choice, the independence from the administration, to do what a co-equal branch should do: investigate and legislate.
Should Democrats win back the House, they should immediately open an investigation with the relevant committee and either request or subpoena the financial records of WIS Media and the Trump Inauguration Committee. Congress must ask whether WIS Media did any relevant work or was simply a payout to a friend of the First Lady. The Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which may be chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, could ask those who received payment what they did and what they know about payments to others.
If Congress changes hands, it, and specifically the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, could and should do their constitutional duty to legislate and investigate the Inaugural Funds scandal. They should protect the integrity of the presidency by safeguarding the transfer of power and the swearing in of a new commander-in-chief who does not start with a cloud over his or her financial allegiances because of a huge loophole in the law.
In fact, this is something that both parties should be interested in. With situations like this, it's in the national interest that a bipartisan effort should be made.
Robert Weiner was a Clinton and Bush White House spokesman, and spokesman for six years for the House Government Reform Committee (formerly the Government Operations Committee). Jared Schwartz is policy analyst for Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.