# Ethics



Matt Whitaker paid well to lobby for Trump pardons

Former Acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker earned $400,000 last year to advocate for President Donald Trump to issue pardons and commutations, Roger Sollenberger revealed in a December 1 scoop for the Daily Beast. The conservative group FreedomWorks, a 501(c)4 organization that does not disclose its donors, reported the expenditure to the IRS as covering “consulting services” for Whitaker, an independent contractor.

FreedomWorks announced in March 2020 that Whitaker would chair a new project “which aims to recommend deserving individuals” for pardons and commutations. Sollenberger noted,

That role raises a number of ethical questions for Whitaker. He was directly involved in White House clemency negotiations possibly as late as Trump’s last full day in office, but never registered as a lobbyist while advocating for pardons—and FreedomWorks never named clemency issues in any of its 2020 lobbying reports.

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Miller-Meeks' revised disclosures still have discrepancies

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) has revised the financial disclosure forms Congressional candidates and members of Congress must submit annually. The new documents mention more than 50 assets, liabilities, or income sources not listed on the 2020 annual report Miller-Meeks submitted in August. The apparent omissions prompted the Iowa Democratic Party’s executive director to file an ethics complaint last month against the first-term Republican.

Despite working with the House Ethics Committee to fix the problems, Miller-Meeks’ latest filings don’t entirely line up.

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Citing misconduct, Iowa governor refuses to fill judicial vacancy

Governor Kim Reynolds has declined to fill a District Court vacancy in northern Iowa, after finding the selection process was tainted by Judge Kurt Stoebe’s “unprofessional” conduct, including favoritism toward one applicant and “significantly misleading comments” that took another applicant out of contention.

In a November 11 letter to members of the District 2B Judicial Nominating Commission, Reynolds explained why she was taking the “extraordinary step” of not proceeding with an appointment, which she said “has been done only once before,” by Governor Bob Ray.

The district nominating commission submitted two names to the governor’s office on October 12. Normally Reynolds would be required to appoint one of those candidates within 30 days. However, the governor wrote, her staff investigated after hearing serious concerns about the commission chair, District Assistant Chief Judge Kurt Stoebe. Several commissioners indicated he gave one applicant extra interview time and “coaching” during the interview.

The commissioners said Stoebe made unprofessional comments about some others who applied for the judgeship.

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Axne corrects errors on financial disclosures

U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) has corrected errors and omissions on the annual financial disclosure statements required for members of Congress, her office announced on October 8. The non-profit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed complaints last month against Axne and six other House members, saying they had not reported stock trades within the time frame specified by federal law.

Axne’s amended disclosures have not yet been posted on the official Congressional website, but I will update with the link when the files are available. UPDATE: Here are the revised reports for 2018, 2019, and 2020.

A news release described the errors as “clerical issues,” which Axne was unaware of before the ethics complaint.

As soon as she learned of these issues, she took steps to properly address them, including hiring an outside counsel to audit her reports and confirming with the third-party money manager who oversees the related retirement accounts that she did not personally direct or execute any of these trades.

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