Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, joined Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, in sending a letter June 12 to the director of the Office of Government Ethics outlining a set of recommendations to prevent the abuse of legal expense funds, such as the Patriot Fund Legal Expense Fund Trust, which was established to pay the legal fees for President Donald Trump’s associates involved in the Special Counsel’s investigation.
The letter was also signed by all of the other Democratic members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: Sens. Gary Peters, D-Michigan; Kamala Harris, D-California; Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.
The fund’s structure includes elements such as a lack of transparency about fund donors and recipients, the potential for the fund’s manager to influence witness testimony and the possibility that federal employees could receive money from prohibited sources. The initial guidance from OGE said that the fund complies with federal law; however, numerous ethics experts outside of the agency have criticized the agency’s guidance. Carper previously joined Hassan’s efforts in 2018 to address the worrisome elements of the Patriot Fund, which contributed to OGE deciding to draft a rule to tighten ethics requirements for future funds. The letter was submitted during the comment period for the advance notice for this new legal defense fund rule and outlines recommendations to help prevent future funds from being structured in a similar fashion to the fund.
“As a starting point, we — and the ethics community — believe that any legal expense fund should be a trust benefitting only a single beneficiary, as was precedent prior to the Trump administration, and be administered by a trustee who owes a fiduciary duty to that sole beneficiary,” the senators wrote. “We also believe that there is a need for increased transparency and oversight by OGE and agency ethics officials.”
“Ensuring the integrity of government operations, investigations and legal proceedings should be the primary focus of any new rule. Any proposed rule should not only require that the structure of a legal expense fund provides a clear, legal path for a beneficiary to ethically accept money from a fund, but also ensure that a fund is not open to abuse. The Patriot Fund leaves much to be desired in this regard,” the senators continued.
The text of the letter is available at bit.ly/31rV7on.