A “Nonprofit” Watchdog, Led By A Former Trump Official, Is Largely A Phantom

A “Nonprofit” Watchdog, Led By A Former Trump Official, Is Largely A Phantom

  • May 8, 2023

Protect the Public’s Trust, a watchdog group run by a former Trump administration official, has become influential in right-wing circles over the last two years, making a name for itself by being a thorn in the side of the Biden administration.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization first surfaced in early 2021, shortly after President Joe Biden took office, and has portrayed itself as a “nonpartisan,” pro-transparency “nonprofit” dedicated to fighting government corruption and ensuring that federal officials play by the rules. It has filed a slew of Freedom of Information Act requests, ethics complaints and lawsuits targeting Biden Cabinet members and other high-ranking administration officials. It has at times succeeded in shining a light on conflicts of interest, and has even influenced questioning in congressional hearings.

But for all its talk of being a champion of transparency, PPT has been shady about its own precise nature, going as far as to misrepresent itself in public records requests.

“As we say on our website, PPT is a group of retired and former public servants with decades of experience in government,” Michael Chamberlain, the group’s director and a former Trump administration official, wrote in an email statement. “We have pursued our mission of exposing ethics conflicts and misconduct since we began and continue to do so. To this day, we remain an unincorporated association of individuals.”

“We have affiliated researchers and consultants and people helping us who have backgrounds across administrations,” he told E&E News shortly after PPT’s launch. “We’re targeting people in the executive branch. So that’s the Biden administration right now.”

The Washington, D.C.-based organization first surfaced in early 2021, shortly after President Joe Biden took office, and has portrayed itself as a “nonpartisan,” pro-transparency “nonprofit” dedicated to fighting government corruption and ensuring that federal officials play by the rules. It has filed a slew of Freedom of Information Act requests, ethics complaints and lawsuits targeting Biden Cabinet members and other high-ranking administration officials. It has at times succeeded in shining a light on conflicts of interest, and has even influenced questioning in congressional hearings.

Those targets have included senior officials at the Interior Department, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. PPT has leveled accusations of ethics rules violations against Nada Culver, the deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, for meeting with a former employer as well as maintaining financial ties to oil giant ConocoPhillips; Elizabeth Klein, now the director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, for failing to disclose the full scope of her work in the private sector; and Joseph Goffman, a high-ranking EPA official, for corresponding with two former colleagues at Harvard University.

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