Concerns of Improper Gifts and Lack of Transparency over Secretary Haaland’s Wedding Sparks Litigation

Concerns of Improper Gifts and Lack of Transparency over Secretary Haaland’s Wedding Sparks Litigation

  • April 14, 2022

Lawsuit alleges DOI playing Lucy with the football regarding public records

Today, watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit alleging the Department of the Interior has not complied with its legal obligations around requests for Department records to determine whether potential ethics violations or influence peddling may have occurred involving the wedding of Secretary Deb Haaland.

PPT celebrates the union of Secretary Deb Haaland and her husband and wishes them many years of happiness. At the same time, the watchdog recognizes the occasion of their wedding does not mark a holiday from the ethics obligations of the Secretary and her staff. Indeed, such a joyous celebration presents a unique opportunity for mischief by persons wishing to improperly influence public servants.

Federal law places limits on the value of gifts federal officials are allowed to receive, with even stricter limits on gifts from “prohibited sources,” those who have or seek business with, are regulated by, or are seeking action by the official or their agency. The Constitution also renders it illegal for an American citizen to accept a gift from a foreign government, a category that could include some Native American Tribes. These restrictions are also imputed on the Secretary’s spouse.

Protect the Public’s Trust’s FOIA requests sought information from the Department to help determine whether any prohibited sources attended the wedding, whether the Secretary or her husband received any gifts from prohibited sources or other persons directly or indirectly impacted by the performance of her official duties, whether any official resources were used to support the event, and how Secretary Haaland and the Department sought to comply with relevant ethical obligations. In addition, photos publicly available from the wedding indicate guests may not have been in compliance with local pandemic restrictions in place at the time. PPT asserts that DOI has not only not complied with its legal obligations but with has failed to live up to its own representations.

“Considering the potential for those who might be inclined to use Secretary Haaland’s wedding for improper purposes, the Department should have been on heightened alert to any situation that may have presented possible ethics quandaries,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, stated. “Their responses to these FOIA requests hardly demonstrate any such commitment. Further, these certainly do not appear to be in keeping with Attorney General Garland’s declaration that ‘transparency in government operations is a priority of this Administration,’ and the administration’s pronouncements to be the most transparent in history. The American public deserves better.”