July 25th, 2017; The Hill
Trump’s infrastructure project may be one of the few things that one can get behind, but alas, a recent lawsuit against him and the Transportation and Commerce departments alleged that the infrastructure panel he assembled has been operating in secrecy and accused its co-chairs of conflict of interest. The plaintiff, the nonprofit Food & Water Watch, accused the defendants of “outsourcing policy making to private individuals who are unfettered by conflict-of-interest rules and other public accountability standards.”
According to The Hill, the council will oversee a $1 trillion budget for transportation projects and the complaint alleged that its co-chairs, billionaire real estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, “both have ‘longstanding personal and financial ties to the President’ and have their ‘own development projects that stand to benefit from the council’s decisions and recommendations.’”
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While Trump announced the council in January, he only recently issued an executive order to establish it. The lawsuit “claims that the administration violated federal public access requirements in establishing and running the new panel” by “‘meeting, suggesting policy proposals, and rendering advice’ in private.” Specifically, it accused Trump et al of failing to disclose the meetings in the federal register or make any meeting materials available.
The White House has been accused of lack of transparency in the past, and their response is that all of the advisory groups “comply with federal laws.” However, the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires not only that advisory group meetings be publicly disclosed, but that the membership “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view presented.”
The lawsuit claims the council process to date is part of a pattern of populating advisory committees with business associates and friends; if we are looking at the facts, it would seem the White House is violating both provisions.—Cyndi Suarez