White House adviser Steve Bannon’s reliance on an outside public relations firm, which reportedly handles his press inquiries free of charge, may violate federal law.
Bannon employs Alexandra Preate, a 46-year-old longtime GOP media strategist, as his “personal spokeswoman.” Preate handles press inquiries on Bannon’s behalf and also coordinates with White House staff to shape messaging free of charge.
Government ethics experts suggest that the arrangement potentially violates the federal Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal employees from accepting “voluntary services for [the] government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law.”
While it’s not uncommon for White House employees to hire outside legal counsel, Bannon’s spokeswoman “appears to be organizing the administration’s response to questions sent to the White House,” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in government ethics, told the Center for Public Integrity. “And the fact that other officials are responsive to her distinguishes this situation from the kind of activity a private lawyer would do.”
Obama administration ethics chief Norm Eisen concurred with Clark’s assessment that Preate’s close coordination with the White House may violate the law.
“She seems to be privy to government information, and she appears to be acting on behalf of a government entity, either Bannon or the White House Press Office. If she’s doing it for free, then that is a potential violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,” Eisen told the Center for Public Integrity.
No one has ever been convicted or indicted for violating the anti deficiency act, but the crime is a Class E felony, punishable by a “$5,000 fine, confinement for up to two years, or both.”
As a private citizen, Preate can’t be held personally responsible for violation of the law, but Bannon and the White House certainly can.
The Center for Public Integrity first became aware of the arrangement when reporters were directed to Preate, who identified herself as Bannon’s “personal spokeswoman,” after calling the White House for comment on Bannon’s activities.
Preate is the founder and CEO of NY based public relations firm Capital HQ, whose primary client is Breitbart News, the conservative news and opinion website bannon formerly ran. If Preate is providing services for Bannon and the White House while being indirectly compensated by Breitbart, they would be in violation of the law.
“The question is whether there is some kind of arrangement among Bannon, Breitbart and Preate that enables Preate to provide public relations services to Bannon and the White House, without compensation from either Bannon or the White House,” Virginia Canter, an attorney for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former government ethics lawyer, told the Center for Public Integrity.
Specifically, Bannon and the White House would be in violation of 18 U.S. Code section 209, known as the salary supplementation ban. The statute “prohibits employees from being paid by someone other than the United States for doing their official Government duties,” according to the Office of Government Ethics.
Neither Bannon nor anyone from the White House has commented on the situation.
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