Having a brand and White House duties is still causing some problems for Ivanka Trump.
The Democracy Forward Foundation, a nonprofit focused on legal and policy issues in the executive branch, on Monday sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics, demanding that the federal ethics agency discipline and open an investigation of the first daughter and her alleged abuse of her White House position to promote her namesake brand.
Trump serves as an adviser to her father, President Trump, and has an office in the West Wing, but Democracy Forward said there are questions as to whether Ivanka Trump has “coordinated with celebrity style blogs to showcase images of her public appearances” in order to “drive sales of her brand’s merchandise.”
The nonprofit cited an analysis late last year of Trump’s social media posts by the Wall Street Journal, which found her posts include an item from her own clothing 70 percent of the time, including while she’s purportedly conducting government business.
The photos from her posts often pop up on sites like StarStyle with direct links to where the Ivanka Trump items can be bought. Democracy Forward said it wants to unearth “any contact or coordination between Ms. Trump, her company and the style publications using her images.”
Anne Harkavy, the group’s executive director, went a bit further and said plainly in a statement that “Ivanka Trump appears to be breaking ethics rules by using her official status to source advertisements that line her pockets.”
“Her official duties are supposed to benefit American taxpayers, and she should not exploit this position for personal financial gain,” Harkavy added.
A White House representative could not be reached and a spokeswoman for Trump’s brand and a spokeswoman for OGE declined to comment.
Trump has previously been embroiled in calls for ethics investigations related to her brand and her White House position. In March, two Senate democrats urged the OGE to outline clear ethics rules for Trump and her brand and that she not be allowed to reap such business benefits while in the White House. That was only a couple of months after OGE, under its former director Walter Shaub, said disciplinary action against Kellyanne Conway was “warranted” after the White House adviser blatantly urged viewers of “Fox & Friends” to buy Ivanka Trump products.
Shaub was reported to have had several clashes with the Trump administration over ethics issues, not the least of which was President Trump’s continued ownership of his own branded businesses. He resigned as director of OGE in July, saying the “current situation” showed that the OGE rules weren’t tough enough.
Democracy Forward’s letter, which has been received by the OGE, makes the more formal allegation that Trump is making “use of public office to accrue private profit,” for her company and for herself, which is prohibited under OGE regulations. While Trump relinquished a formal role at her company before joining the White House last year, she has not fully divested her interests. Joint financial disclosures by Trump and her husband Jared Kushner estimated the couple received between $1 million and $5 million in income from the business in 2016.
Democracy Forward went on to float the possibility that Trump is “coordinating directly with IT collection or third-party-style publications that serve to connect consumers with featured products.”
Trump’s popularity on social media like Instagram, where she has 4.2 million followers, was also laid out. Democracy Forward said she “frequently features her name-branded apparel on these social media accounts, and does so in a way that cannot be separated from the performance of her official duties.” The group identified at least three instances in December where Trump wore an Ivanka Trump product, posted a photo of herself to Instagram that was picked up by StarStyle, which then provided a shoppable link in its coverage.
It’s unclear who operates StarStyle and the site could not be reached for comment.
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