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house Bill H.R. 1481

Should Presidents & Vice Presidents be Subject to Civil and Criminal Penalties for Conflict of Interest Violations?

Argument in favor

Presidents and vice presidents aren’t above the law. As such, they should be subject to the same conflict of interest restrictions as any other federal employee in order to ensure they make policy with the American people’s best interests at heart.

Kimberly 's Opinion
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04/27/2019
No one is above the law. The president and vice president are offices that must be held with transparency and without conflict of interest.
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IllWill's Opinion
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04/27/2019
We already have a President that is violating the emoluments clause, personally benefiting from his business interests while he is in office. Congress needs to be make sure the law is clear! Trump’s entire cabinet should be impeached with all the conflicts of interests that they’re entangled in!
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Kodiwodi's Opinion
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04/27/2019
Conflict of interest is an easily understood concept. It means that the person with it has a personal stake in the issue and cannot be objective representing all. His allegiance is to himself. Not only do I believe they should be fined and jailed, but I believe they must never be allowed in office and must recuse themselves from candidacy. This needs to apply to all government employees, not just the P and VP.
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Argument opposed

Given the complexity of some presidents’ finances and holdings, it’d be unduly cumbersome for them to divest of all their assets or put them all in a blind trust. These regulations could limit the presidency’s accessibility to certain people, especially businesspeople and investors.

Mark's Opinion
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04/27/2019
Only if Congress is held to those same exact standards. I’m not concerned about billionaires who became president. I am concerned about Congress people who went to DC and then mysteriously became millionaires and billionaires.
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Lori's Opinion
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04/27/2019
This bill is just another attempt to try to set up the President. This was an issue when President Trump first took office. Now it is resurfacing again. This is harassment. Isn’t it enough that he has forfeited his income from the presidency? No other President has done that. The Democrats are trying to devise a plan that no one will want to be the President. I never heard of someone being penalized for a conflict of interest.
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Angelo's Opinion
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04/27/2019
If you think this Dem is worried about your best interest you have your head in the sand. These politicians are looking out for their best interest in their bank account. Then if you read a bill from start to finish most of it is full of pork fat to line their bank accounts and nothing to do with what the bill is intended to do.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
    IntroducedMarch 4th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 1481?

This bill — the Presidential Accountability Act — would make it a crime for the president or vice president to personally and substantially participate in official matters that affect their financial interests, unless the financial interests are held in a blind trust or the president or vice president discloses the financial interests to the Office of Government Ethics and receives an exemption. It would also impose criminal penalties — a prison term, a fine, or both — on a president or vice president who commits this type of offense. It’d also authorize civil penalties and injunctions for this offense. This bill would also make these types of offenses a “high crime and misdemeanor” (i.e., grounds for impeachment) under Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution.

Additionally, this bill prohibits the president or vice president from entering into contracts with the U.S. government.

Impact

Government ethics; government transparency; OGE; the U.S. Constitution; vice president; the president.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1481

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) reintroduced this bill from the 114th Congress to ensure presidents and vice presidents address conflicts of interest. When she originally introduced this bill in November 2016, Rep. Clark said:

“The President of the United States has the power to affect how our tax dollars are spent, who the federal government does business with, and the integrity of America’s standing in a global economy. Every recent president in modern history has taken steps to ensure his financial interests do not conflict with the needs of the American people. The American people need to be able to trust that the President’s decisions are based on the best interests of families at home, and not the President’s financial interests.”

Writing in the Harvard Journal of Legislation, Samantha Block, a student at George Washington University, argued that contrary to what some believe, Congress has the power to grant an independent agency, such as the Office of Government Ethics, the power to regulate and enforce conflict of interest laws with respect to the president and vice president:

“Conflict of interest laws are necessary to prevent government officials, including the President and Vice President, from engaging in activities that could impair their ability to properly carry out the requirements of their position… The 2016 election brought to the forefront the issue of conflicts of interest and the lack of regulation in this area of the law as it applies to the President… Currently, the laws regarding conflicts of interest only extend to certain executive branch employees. These laws center around the notion ‘that a public servant owes undivided loyalty to the Government’ and seek to prevent any intentional or unintentional influence arising from private or personal financial interests. The current federal conflict of interest laws can go so far as to require employees to divest assets or recuse themselves from certain issues. Yet these laws fail to extend to the President and Vice President for fear of ‘interfer[ing] with their ability to carry out their diverse responsibilities under the Constitution.’ While these laws do not extend to the President, many Presidents voluntarily comply and generally utilize one of three different courses of action… typically referred to as the ‘three-D’ method: ‘disclosure, disqualification, and divestiture.’... Congress can arguably create federal conflicts of interest law that apply to the President… the rationale of some critics that the regulation of presidential conflicts of interest by Congress violates the separation of powers principle is flawed. Congress has the power ‘to make all [l]aws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into [e]xecution for foregoing [p]owers, and all other [p]owers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.’ Under the Necessary and Proper Clause Congress not only has the power to decide when its own powers will be exercised and executed, but also has the discretion to decide how all federal government powers shall be executed, including that of the executive branch. The Necessary and Proper Clause, Emoluments Clause, along with Congress’s legislative powers under Article I, and past conflict of interest legislation extending to the President, demonstrate that not all presidential conflicts of interest laws would be an over extension of Congress’s power. Therefore, Congress can create legislation applying to the President and Vice President, and through the Necessary and Proper Clause grant an independent agency both regulatory and enforcement authority over these new laws.”

In his refusal to divest from his investments and businesses, President Trump has claimed that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Writing for USA Today, CREW board member and George W. Bush administration chief ethics counsel Richard Painter and CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder concede the truth of this claim, as “[t]here is no specific law that directly prohibits the president from owning any assets — whether real estate or anything else — that conflict with his official duties.” However, they argue that rather than exculpating Trump, this merely highlights the need for Congressional action to rectify this oversight in existing law:

“[T]he time for special exemptions from financial conflict of interest rules is over. No person — president, vice president or member of Congress — is above the law. Congress should act quickly and decisively to include all government officials, including the most powerful, in the definition of a federal ‘employee’ covered by conflict of interest laws. They are, after all, the employees of the American people who elect them, and it is our interests that they should put first, not their own. Everyone in our government should be required to act For The People.”

This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), in the 116th Congress. In the 114th Congress, it had 82 bipartisan cosponsors, including 81 Democrats and one Republican, and didn’t receive a committee vote.

The For the People Act (H.R. 1) incorporates this bill and passed the House by a 234-193 vote but isn’t expected to pass the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed his opposition to the bill. H.R. 1 has 236 Democratic House cosponsors.


Of NoteHistorically, American presidents have all used some form or blind trust or placed their assets in an investment vehicle over which they had no control. In fact, prior to Donald Trump, every president in the modern era divested investments that conflicted with official duties and placed personal assets in conflict-free investments or blind trusts.

When President Trump announced in January 2017 that he wouldn’t divest from his interests in the Trump Organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder predicted that “[e]very decision [Trump] will make as president will be followed by the specter of doubt, and will be questioned as to whether his decision is in the best interest of the American people or the best interest of his bottom line.”

In Trump’s second year in office, CREW recorded “more than 900 interactions between the government, those trying to influence it, and the Trump Organization, each resulting in a conflict of interest for President Trump,” bringing the total number of known conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization to over 1,400.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / georgeclerk)

AKA

Presidential Accountability Act

Official Title

To amend the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to require the President and Vice President to divest themselves of certain financial conflicts of interest, and for other purposes.

    No one is above the law. The president and vice president are offices that must be held with transparency and without conflict of interest.
    Like (226)
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    Only if Congress is held to those same exact standards. I’m not concerned about billionaires who became president. I am concerned about Congress people who went to DC and then mysteriously became millionaires and billionaires.
    Like (90)
    Follow
    Share
    We already have a President that is violating the emoluments clause, personally benefiting from his business interests while he is in office. Congress needs to be make sure the law is clear! Trump’s entire cabinet should be impeached with all the conflicts of interests that they’re entangled in!
    Like (130)
    Follow
    Share
    Conflict of interest is an easily understood concept. It means that the person with it has a personal stake in the issue and cannot be objective representing all. His allegiance is to himself. Not only do I believe they should be fined and jailed, but I believe they must never be allowed in office and must recuse themselves from candidacy. This needs to apply to all government employees, not just the P and VP.
    Like (115)
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    Definitely! The President should divest all his/her financial interests so he/she can represent the American citizens without conflict like the are sworn to do. You can’t do that 100% if you are not divested. I think if a President is caught making decisions that benefit them they should be held accountable!
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    Of course they should. Where the hell did this idea come from that a President or Vice President are so special that they are not held to the same standard as anyone else! Oh, I know - the Idiot and his Repugnants, of course! This should apply to ALL who hold office!
    Like (62)
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    Pass this along with comprehensive anti corruption laws and a Constitutional Amendment that says corporations are not people and money is not speech. The corruption in our entire government is the biggest threat to our democracy. Trump is just a symptom of the real problem.
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    Yes, and if found guilty of any violations, they will be required to contribute 100% of all revenues of every single business, that was operating while they were in office, to the tax payers who make less than $100,000. Also, every business entity owned by them, or that they have interests in, shall be immediately closed and all monies from sales go to the same tax payers, not to family members, or other designated beneficiaries. Their entire prison sentence will be in a glass cage on the Whitehouse lawn for the reminder of their life.
    Like (52)
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    Trump has set the first example of Evil and corruption [of conflicts of interest] in our history. If Congress doesn't nip this in the bud now, this blatant nose thumb to the trust we placed in the president elect to do the ethical thing will take on a life of its own from this day forward, growing into a fast growing cancer!
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    DEFINITELY- Presidents & Vice Presidents ARE WORKING FOR US, THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. They are supposed to stop working for themselves. Trump has been shoveling money into his & his family’s pockets since he got in office. He should have been stopped by Congress. Until the 2018 election the Congress was held by Republicans & even NOW the Senate still a Republican HOLD- HAVE DONE NOTHING TO CONTROL TRUMP. IF CONGRESS IS NOT GOING TO DO ITS JOB - A LAW LIKE THIS IS NECESSARY.
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    This bill is just another attempt to try to set up the President. This was an issue when President Trump first took office. Now it is resurfacing again. This is harassment. Isn’t it enough that he has forfeited his income from the presidency? No other President has done that. The Democrats are trying to devise a plan that no one will want to be the President. I never heard of someone being penalized for a conflict of interest.
    Like (27)
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    Yes. President and Vice President should be subject to Civil and Criminal penalities for conflict of interest
    Like (25)
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    Presidents and Vice Presidents are SERVANTS not kings. No one is above the law.
    Like (22)
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    The OLC opinion has served its useful life with the likes of Donald Trump. His level of corruption seems unprecedented to me, and I am no spring chicken.
    Like (20)
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    If you think this Dem is worried about your best interest you have your head in the sand. These politicians are looking out for their best interest in their bank account. Then if you read a bill from start to finish most of it is full of pork fat to line their bank accounts and nothing to do with what the bill is intended to do.
    Like (20)
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    In theory, Presidents and Vice Presidents are already expected to divest of conflicts of interest, if only for sake of tradition and integrity. But since Trump has proved again and again that if it isn’t explicitly a crime, he will find the loophole that allows him to behave poorly and in bad faith with the American people. He will push the letter of the law as far as we will let him, and set a dangerous precedent for future presidents by doing so. So it’s time to close the loopholes, assert the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and stop Trump from taking advantage of the American people.
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    No one is above the LAW
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    YES!! Had ENOUGH !! of this cronyism & malfeasance! Throw the BUMS OUT!
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    Congress shall make no laws that do not apply equally to themselves.
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    Not only is it reprehensible behavior, but behaviors that can threaten our national security at the highest levels, as people who are subject to engaging in these behaviors are self-serving, not entitled to National Security Clearance. It is only because of the titles that they get these clearances. So, not only would they have to divest, they would also have to qualify for a top security clearance, to keep us all safe.
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