Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Interior Department Benefits Past Donors and Clients of Secretary Zinke, Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, and Senior Officials, CAP Report Finds
Press Release

RELEASE: Interior Department Benefits Past Donors and Clients of Secretary Zinke, Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, and Senior Officials, CAP Report Finds

Washington, D.C. — A culture of corruption in the Trump administration’s Interior Department may be reaping financial benefits for political donors and past clients of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other senior officials, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

CAP’s review of financial and lobbying disclosure forms, agency decisions, and other records raises serious ethics concerns that mirror a pattern of corruption at the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other Trump administration cabinet agencies.

The report explores three notable features of what it calls the “favor factory” at the Interior Department. First, it examines how Trump’s political appointees at the Interior Department can exploit weakened federal ethics guidelines to work in positions where they can deliver favorable decisions to past clients and mask their portfolio of responsibilities from public inspection. Second, it analyzes recent department decisions that are favorable to past clients of former lobbyists and litigants who are working in President Donald Trump’s Interior Department. Finally, the report examines some of the operational characteristics of the Interior Department’s favor factory that mask it from public view.

“The Interior Department has built a favor factory that remains largely hidden from public scrutiny,” said Jenny Rowland, a senior policy analyst for Public Lands at CAP and co-author of the report. “Congress should step in to investigate these shady dealings and make sure the department is being held accountable to the public.”

The report highlights the role of Zinke’s deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, a former industry lobbyist on issues he now oversees. Bernhardt appears to be a central figure in a carefully constructed system for dispensing political favors.

While the report does not make any claims that officials at the Interior Department have violated any federal laws or regulations, it raises serious concerns about a troubling pattern of weakened ethics rules, poor record-keeping, and the handing out of lucrative rewards to past political donors and clients of both Zinke and other Interior Department officials.

“The current Congress has turned a blind eye to the brewing scandals and ethical mess at Secretary Zinke and Deputy Secretary Bernhardt’s Interior Department,” said Marc Rehmann, senior campaign manager for CAP’s Law of the Land Project and co-author of the report. “The fact that Congress hasn’t held a single oversight hearing on the culture of corruption and favor factory that is operating at the Interior Department is inexcusable.”

Read the report: “The Favor Factory: President Trump’s Interior Department Is Benefitting Past Political Donors and Lobbying Clients” by Jenny Rowland and Marc Rehmann.

For more information or to speak to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at [email protected] or 202.478.6327.