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How the Trump Administration May Be Skirting Its Own Ethics Rules

The Trump administration appears to be either ignoring or exempting top staffers from its own watered-down ethics rules.

As we have detailed, President Trump in January issued an order weakening Obama-era ethics policies, allowing lobbyists to work at agencies they had sought to influence. The Trump order did limit what lobbyists could do once they entered government, banning them from directly handling issues on which they had lobbied.

 

But the administration may not be even following that.

 

We've found three hires announced this week who, in fact, are working on the same issues on which they were registered lobbyists while in the private sector.

 

Consider Shahira Knight, President Trump's special assistant for tax and retirement policy.

 

Lobbying disclosures show that Knight lobbied the government on a host of retirement and tax issues for financial services giant Fidelity. In one case, she lobbied against a regulation requiring financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients when it comes to retirement accounts such as 401(k)s. The regulation is strongly supported by consumer advocates and strongly opposed by Fidelity. Retirement savers lose billions of dollars a year because of conflicts of interest in the industry, the Obama administration estimated.

 

The Trump executive order says former lobbyists like Knight cannot work in the "specific issue area" in which they lobbied, though that phrase is not defined.

 

Given that Knight lobbied on tax and retirement issues and is now working as Trump's assistant on tax and retirement issues, how can she be in compliance with the ethics policy?

 

It's not at all clear.

 

One possibility is that the Trump administration has issued waivers exempting Knight and the other lobbyists they've hired from the new rules.

 

Unfortunately, there's no way for the public to know if this has been done. In a little-noticed action, Trump killed the Obama-era requirement that the Office of Government Ethics publish an annual report disclosing such waivers. Trump's order also removed the requirement to provide a public interest justification for waivers.

 

That means Trump can exempt an official from the lobbying limits at any time, for any reason, with no public disclosure.

 

Critics of the administration's approach to conflicts of interest said it is impossible to know whether the rules are being ignored or rendered irrelevant by the officials implementing them.

 

"I very much suspect that Trump's ethics executive order either is not understood within the administration and not enforced, or the White House counsel is single-handedly interpreting the restrictions of the executive order so narrowly that they are next to meaningless," said Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.

 

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment about whether any waivers have been issued or the how the ethics policy is being enforced.

 

Asked about Knight, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement:

 

"Shahira Knight has been working with the Office of White House Counsel since before she joined the White House staff to ensure she is in compliance with all rules and regulations."

 

Walters wouldn't provide any further details.

 

The two other lobbyists hired this week, whose names were first flagged by The Intercept, are Michael Catanzaro and George David Banks. They, like Knight, were named to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn's senior staff.

 

Just a few months ago Catanzaro was lobbying on fuel standards and greenhouse gas regulations for the 200BAmerican Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. He is now special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy.

 

As for Banks, disclosure records state he recently lobbied on environmental issues for a business group. He is now special assistant to the president for international energy and environment.

 

In an interview, Banks told ProPublica that he had signed an ethics pledge but no one from the White House Counsel's office has contacted him about any restrictions on his job or the fact that he was a registered lobbyist.

 

"I haven't had a conversation about it yet," he said. He has not received a waiver.

 

Banks also said that he was mistakenly registered as a lobbyist due to an error by his office manager. His former employer, the American Council for Capital Formation, said in a statement that Banks "did not meet the legal threshold for registering with Congress as a lobbyist" and it is seeking to correct the filings.

 

That distinction matters because the Trump ethics policy applies only to officials who were registered lobbyists.

 

The law requires a lobbyist to register based on a complicated test including spending more than 20 percent of his or her time lobbying. In recent years there has been a well-documented decline in the ranks of registered lobbyists, who must report details of their work publicly, and a rise in so-called shadow lobbying by people who do not meet the registration requirements.

 

The White House spokeswoman said that Knight and Catanzaro "have been working with the Office of White House Counsel since before they joined the White House staff to ensure they are in compliance with all rules and regulations," but declined to provide any details.

 

There are multiple signs the Trump administration is not aggressively policing ethics issues beyond its handling of the rules on lobbyists. In January, Trump's team cancelled a previously scheduled ethics and leadership training course for White House appointees, Politico reported. The White House Counsel's office also gave a pass to Trump aide Kellyanne Conway for violating ethics rules by urging Americans to buy Ivanka Trump's clothing line.

 

During the Obama administration, the White House posted copies of ethics waivers on its website. Obama issued a handful to former lobbyists during his eight years in office.

 

The current White House website still has a page for ethics waivers, but it is empty. It states: "Ethics pledge waivers will be published as they become available."

 

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

 

 

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TRAI takes measures to provide fair deal to TV channel subscribers
Aimed at protecting consumers' interest, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Monday launched a slew of measures to provide them with fair deal to watch TV channels, ensuring transparency and orderly growth of the broadcasting sector.
 
The major features include mandatory display of all channels and their rates, choice of subscription to a-la-carte channels (can be ordered as separate items) and bouquets of channels (combo packages), separate bouquet for pay channels and free-to-air (FTA) channels and standardisation of dissemination of information related to services through customer care.
 
The measures also make it mandatory for broadcasters and distributors to seek consumers' permission for any change in the subscribed packages and display of Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) for all channels including those which are not subscribed.
 
"The move is to provide consumers better choices, better prices and transparent system. It will help them to find out what is for free and where they can get fair and better deal," TRAI Chairman R.S. Sharma said here at a press meet.
 
These measures will be implemented in phases in the next six months' time.
 
TRAI's Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eight) Tariff Order, 2017, seeks broadcasters to declare their channels as Pay or FTA and they have been given complete flexibility to declare maximum retail price (MRP) of the Pay channels as long as being provided to consumers individually.
 
Also, broadcasters can offer bouquets of its Pay channels and declare MRP of bouquets, However, the MRP for bouquets of Pay channel will not be less than 85 per cent of the sum of MRP of the a-la-carte Pay channels. 
 
"It will allow consumers to choose channels of their choice easily," said S.K. Gupta, Principal Advisor to the TRAI. 
 
Gupta further said Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) channels will not be allowed to put in one bouquet. 
 
TRAI's Telecommunications (Broadcasting and Cable) Services, Standards of Quality of Services and Consumer Protection (Addressable System) Regulations, 2017, envisages mandatory display of all channels and their MRP for easy navigation and identification by subscribers. 
 
Also, broadcasters will not be allowed to change placement of any channel (number if channel) for certain period of time.
 
The regulation said distributor cannot charge a subscriber over Rs 130 for initial one hundred SD channels per month and a subscriber will be free to choose any FTA channel, Pay channel or bouquet channels. 
 
"No separate charges, other than the network capacity fee, to be paid by subscriber for subscribing to FTA channels or bouquet of FTA channels," reads one of the regulations. 
 
Meanwhile, the TRAI said any channel of MRP of more than Rs 19 per month shall not form part of any bouquet. 
 
Gupta said it will lead to competition to provide better content by broadcasters. 
 
The TRAI also released Interconnection Regulations for Broadcasting Services related to Television that will regulate interconnection arrangements for broadcasting services, placement of TV channels in the EPF.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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COMMENTS

Pradeep Kumar M Sreedharan

4 months ago

Crocodile tears from yet another scam authority
Why is set top box proprietary, poor TRAI, they are still unawares.
Why does mobile data for which I have paid good money, expire?
What have they done to ensure that declared speeds are made available,
Are they still in the process of discovering some means to ensure proper speeds are guaranteed?
Etc etc etc

Pradeep Kumar M Sreedharan

4 months ago

Crocodile tears from yet another scam authority
Why is set top box proprietary, poor TRAI, they are still unawares.
Why does mobile data for which I have paid good money, expire?
What have they done to ensure that declared speeds are made available,
Are they still in the process of discovering some means to ensure proper speeds are guaranteed?
Etc etc etc

i Concern

4 months ago

We have been fighting for this from last 6 months with I & B Ministry & TRAI. All Doordarshan channels must be free from any fees/charges. There needs to be system in place were we only change the DTH card and subscribe to other like our mobile sim.

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