IG COMPLAINT: Interior Secretary Haaland’s Financial Disclosure Strains Credulity; Potential Reporting Violations

IG COMPLAINT: Interior Secretary Haaland’s Financial Disclosure Strains Credulity; Potential Reporting Violations

  • July 20, 2022

While making $174,000 salary and living in million-dollar residence she reported no bank account and essentially zero assets

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust filed a complaint with the Inspector General (IG) at the Department of the Interior (DOI) alleging Secretary Debra Haaland may have committed reporting violations on a financial disclosure report.

Secretary Haaland filed a Form 278e financial disclosure, required of all political appointees, upon her nomination to be Secretary in December 2020. On that form she reported no assets other than an annual payment of $175 from Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico. Prior to joining the Biden Administration, the Secretary represented New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives from January 2019 to January 2021, a position that comes with a $174,000 annual salary. Though appointees are not required to report income from federal employment on the form, they are required to report all bank and investment accounts with a balance of at least $5,000. Despite this income and being gainfully employed prior to serving in the House, she declined to report any personal bank accounts or investment accounts.

Before her confirmation, Ms. Haaland had issues with properly completing financial reports. She was forced to file multiple addenda to her congressional financial disclosures, including submitting some after the completion of her term, despite having a minimal quantity of items to report. She also filed a recent federal tax return more than a year late.

While her 2021 Form 278e indicated a net worth of $0, the financial disclosure Secretary Haaland submitted after marrying her long-time partner reported assets of between $970,000 and $2.125 million. This range did not include two residences on which the couple has mortgages, one of which reportedly is a New Mexico home worth in excess of $1 million that has been her registered voting address for several years.

Under the circumstances, the absence of a bank account on her financial disclosure raises many questions. What was happening to her paychecks? Most employers, including federal employers, normally require direct deposit of employees’ wages. Did DOI ethics officials notice this anomaly and question the Secretary about it? If her paychecks were being deposited in another type of account, would that not require that account to be reported?

This is just one of a number of incidents of possible ethics violations PPT has identified at the Department. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning was the subject of an IG complaint over possible false statements to Congress during her confirmation hearing. The IG confirmed an investigation into BLM’s current #2, Nada Culver, for possibly violating ethics rules related to public land orders while she headed BLM prior to Ms. Stone-Manning’s confirmation. PPT filed a complaint against former Deputy Solicitor Daniel Cordalis for allegedly participating in a matter that could benefit his former employer and his wife’s current employer. An additional complaint alleged the Secretary’s top attorney, Elizabeth Klein, may have “violated a federal ethics law by taking part in matters involving her former employer and clients.” Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed her “frustration” and “real anger” over reports that political appointees had been inappropriately engaging with special interests, including former employers, during tribal consultation at a confirmation hearing for Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Laura Daniel-Davis.

The Secretary of the Interior is granted tremendous statutory authority to execute the law, make policy, and oversee a budget of more than $17 billion. The American public deserves transparency in reporting and the confidence that this powerful official fully complies with all relevant requirements. Failure to do so not only erodes the public’s trust but can weaken respect for the law and their obligations among other public servants. An investigation into whether Secretary Haaland’s 2021 financial disclosure was complete, accurate, and consistent with her legal and ethical obligations would go a long way toward clearing up a growing ethics cloud over the Secretary’s tenure.

“If the Biden Administration is to live up to its promise to be the most ethical and most transparent in history, it would be prudent for Secretary Haaland to go above and beyond the bare minimum reporting requirements,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “While there are many Americans in difficult financial straits who do not themselves have a bank account with at least $5,000, it is hard to imagine someone in Secretary Haaland’s situation being among them, particularly given more recent filings showing she has been living with a millionaire for years. Even if she complied with the letter of the law in her required reporting, her disclosures hardly seem to reflect her true circumstances, and neither she nor the Department seemed anxious to clarify the record. And merely complying with the letter of the law does not seem to comport with the administration’s constant refrain of being the most transparent ever.”