After months of effort, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short’s termination financial disclosure report is public, providing an important window into his possible conflicts of interest. However, the long delay—and the fact that the report was not certified by the Office of Government Ethics—highlights serious deficiencies in the financial disclosure process during presidential transitions that OGE must address.
In September, CREW wrote to the Office of Government Ethics calling for an investigation into Short after he seemingly violated the Ethics in Government Act and OGE regulations by failing to file a termination public financial disclosure report when he left the White House in January 2021. Only days after that letter was sent, OGE publicly released Short’s 2021 termination report on its website.
While Short’s termination report had actually been filed on January 12, 2021, OGE officially “declined” to certify his report and did not make this publicly known or available until September 21, more than eight months after it was filed and more than five months after CREW submitted the first of its six requests for it. The delay in making Short’s termination report publicly available falls outside the 30-day timeframe mandated by the Ethics in Government Act. In addition, OGE’s decision to decline certifying his termination report raises concerns that his report may not only contain insufficient information, but could indicate more serious conflicts of interest. The delay in making Short’s termination report publicly available and its lack of certification by OGE prompted CREW to send a follow up letter to OGE.
CREW’s letter calls on OGE to evaluate its processes and procedures to ensure that its staff are adequately assigned to and have the means to follow up on White House termination reports, especially when they have not yet been certified by either OGE or departing White House ethics officials. This would include maintaining a database of public financial disclosure reports for all qualifying White House officials during presidential transitions to ensure they are released by OGE within the 30-day timeframe mandated by EIGA.
This isn’t the first time CREW has taken action against Short. In June 2020, CREW filed a complaint against Short for appearing to have violated a criminal conflict of interest law by holding stock in companies that were directly affected by the government’s pandemic response and participating in meetings with those companies.
OGE’s failure to release Short’s termination report within 30 days undermines public confidence in government transparency, an integral part of OGE’s public financial disclosure system. OGE’s own guidance states that “failure to make reports promptly available in response to appropriate requests significantly undermines” confidence in accountability and transparency for high level government officials. OGE should also take the proactive step to work with Short to resolve what may have prevented his report from being certified by White House ethics officials and OGE in the first place. If they find his reporting inadequate or insufficient, they should refer any material conflicts of interest to the Department of Justice for appropriate action. OGE should prioritize revising its processes during presidential transitions, so that similar failures of transparency do not persist.