Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Mastodon Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube
Defend the Facts Support independent journalism by donating to ProPublica.

Check Out the Obama Team's Ethics Commitment Letters

President Barack Obama makes his point to Lawrence Summers, left, head of the National Economic Council, and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, seated next to Summers, during a Saturday budget meeting in the White House Roosevelt Room in the President's first week in office. (Pete Souza/White House)

3:45pm: This post has been updated.

By law, federal employees in the executive branch can't participate in specific government decisions in which they have a substantial personal or financial stake. President Barack Obama is holding his team to even higher expectations that some good-governance experts have said are so strict they are obstructing his efforts to fill empty seats in the administration.

To join the team, appointees are required to write personalized letters promising to live up to these tough standards. We at ProPublica received from the White House the ethics promises of the first wave of Obama appointees. And we're sharing them with you.

In the letters, officials promise to comply with specific government ethics laws and regulations, and list their conflicts of interest, past and present. These can include anything from a spouse's job to the family farm.

We've looked through the letters, and while there are a quite a few interesting conflicts, we haven't come across any previously unreported significant conflicts. But don't take our word for it. Help us check what the officials are pledging. Here are all the documents.

The disclosure letters will also give you insight into how the White House defines and polices conflicts of interest. Here are some examples of the curious tidbits we've already gleaned:

  • William J. Lynn III lobbied the Department of Defense, the State Department and Congress on behalf of Raytheon, a defense contractor, between 2004 and 2008, a fact that bogged down his recent Senate confirmation. He's now the deputy secretary of defense.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder promised to recuse himself from matters concerning his wife's eight-physician OB-GYN clinic in northwest D.C.
  • Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner served on the board of the Peterson Institute alongside some unlikely colleagues. Among them was George W. Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, who left the administration in the midst of a public disagreement after only two years.
  • Austan Goolsbee, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, has to leave edits to his economics textbook -- still a work in progress -- to his co-authors. The ethics rules restrict him from finishing the manuscript or participating in the edits, though he'll be allowed to receive royalties once it hits the shelves.

Again, here are all the documents. Use our comment section to discuss your findings and tip us off to any big surprises, or shoot us an e-mail.

And, if rummaging through financial disclosure forms suits you, send a note to our editor of distributed reporting, Amanda Michel, at [email protected].

ProPublica's Olga Pierce -- who's on vacation this week -- originally requested and wrangled the documents.

Update: We tweaked this post slightly to better reflect the intricacies of the law.

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page