The parties to this action have dismissed this case with prejudice. Read the stipulation of dismissal below.
CREW is suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Education (DOE) for failing to disclose records of communications between agency officials and the Urban Revitalization Coalition (URC), which sponsored events targeting black voters that featured cash giveaways of up to $50,000 and included Trump supporters heaping “lavish” praise on President Trump and administration policies.
Administration officials’ attendance at URC’s cash giveaway events raises ethical and legal questions around violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using their official authority for partisan politics. Additionally, Trump’s announcement on April 22, 2020 that URC leadership would join an administration coronavirus taskforce only increases the need for clarity about URC’s influence in the administration.
URC Cash Giveaway Events Raise Concern
The first event drawing public concern occurred in December 2019 when URC gave away $25,000 in small cash increments and presented awards to Cleveland regional HUD official Pam Ashby and White House official Ja’Ron Smith. In January 2020, following public questions about potential impropriety, Virginia Union University cancelled a URC event featuring a $30,000 cash giveaway and that would have honored Trump and other administration officials for Martin Luther King Jr Day. Still, URC planned future events, including a $50,000 cash giveaway in February 2020 with a presentation on Trump’s Opportunity Zones program. URC cancelled that event after the Ohio Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor to investigate URC for possible election law violations.
CREW requested HUD and DOE communications with URC, but has not received records within the statutory timeframe to respond.
Trump Includes URC In COVID-19 Response
On April 22, Trump announced that HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council would “focus its efforts on supporting underserved communities impacted by the coronavirus.” Trump said the council would seek input from community leaders and the private sector, such as the URC. The URC’s two co-founders—Darrell Scott and Kareem Lanier—reportedly are “close with Carson.” Scott is also URC’s CEO and has been described as “one of Trump’s closest and most prominent black supporters.” He also co-chairs a “Black Voices for Trump” initiative.
This week, public reports indicated that Darrell Scott has been in communication with Senator Tim Scott (no relation) and has meetings scheduled with the White House council on reopening the government. In its reporting a South Carolina paper identified Darrell Scott as an “outside adviser to the president” on several matters.
Trump entrusting part of the coronavirus response efforts for underserved communities to a group that already has legal and ethical problems is questionable at best. And at the very least, the public deserves to understand just how much the administration is influenced by problematic special interest groups.