Wilbur Ross reported making a minimum of $53 to $127 million in outside income during his four years as secretary of commerce for Donald Trump. It is possible that he earned significantly more as he was not required to specify certain income totals over $1 million. Even in an administration characterized by corruption, Ross became notorious for mixing personal business with his government role.
It is impossible to know Ross’s exact income because it was reported in broad ranges, but it is clear that while running the agency in charge of promoting economic growth and regulating global trade for the United States, he made tens of millions of dollars. The total income is derived from three different yearly financial disclosures, one of which covered nearly two months before Ross was Commerce Secretary, along with Ross’s final termination report obtained by CREW from the Office of Government Ethics.
One of Ross’ biggest sources of income during his final year in office was just under $1.5 million from WLR/IVZ Mortgage Recovery Associates LLC, a company that serves as a general partner to various other funds. He made a large portion of his income from his time in office, at least $42 million, in 2017. This included more than $6 million he was paid for giving up unvested restricted Invesco shares and more than $5 million from selling Invesco stock, plus a nearly one million dollar bonus for his work for the company in 2016.
Almost immediately after Trump tapped him to run the Commerce Department, Ross drew ethics scrutiny for a $2 billion discrepancy between the wealth he claimed to have and what he reported on his financial disclosure reports.
Things went downhill from there. Less than a year into his tenure, CREW requested an investigation into whether he fully divested from the Bank of Cyprus and recused himself from trade negotiations with China that could have affected his financial interests in or related to the transportation companies Navigator Holdings and Diamond S Shipping. CREW filed a complaint against Ross six months later for possible insider trading and violations of the STOCK Act when he reportedly shorted Navigator stock after learning that a negative story about his relationship with the company was about to come out in the New York Times. And just two months after that, CREW filed a criminal complaint against Ross seeking an investigation into whether he violated the law by participating in several meetings with companies that he had not yet divested from.
An inspector general report released in December 2020 revealed that Ross was in fact under investigation for many of these issues for nearly the entire time he served as Commerce secretary. Ultimately, the report cleared him of insider trading allegations, but found that while there wasn’t enough evidence to say that he violated the primary conflict of interest law, he did violate the general standard against creating the appearance of violating the law or ethical standards.
Since leaving the Trump administration in January, Wilbur Ross has already started an acquisition company that is named after — and financially backed — by him. He’s certainly not the only former official to take his government expertise to private business, but the tens of millions in outside income he raked in makes Wilbur Ross one of the worst examples of Trump administration corruption.