A trio of progressive government watchdogs with histories of exposing conflicts of interest and industry ties in the Trump administration have teamed up to take on government corruption in the Trump era and beyond.
The new nonpartisan umbrella group, Accountable.US, brings together three nonprofits: Allied Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on special interests and predatory financial institutions; Western Values Project, a Montana-based conservation and public lands advocacy group; and Restore Public Trust, a Washington-based accountability and transparency group. All three have ties to New Venture Fund, a nonprofit charity that supports a wide range of projects.
The new nonprofit’s president is Kyle Herrig, a former program director at New Venture Fund and current board member at the liberal watchdog American Oversight. Herrig has been a senior adviser to all three groups now under Accountable.US and said that banding together will allow them to pool resources and maximize their effect.
“We’re in a time of unprecedented corruption,” Herrig told HuffPost in an interview. “We’re very excited about launching this group to hold policymakers accountable and ultimately communicate to the American public that the government is working on behalf of special interests and not the interest of them.”
Each of the groups has made waves during President Donald Trump’s time in the Oval Office.
Allied Progress, which formed in 2015, has played a key role in exposing the administration’s ties to the payday loan industry, which donated big money to Trump’s campaign and his inauguration, and stands to benefit from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposal to weaken a regulation governing payday lenders. Last month, Allied Progress uncovered audio clips of payday loan executives bragging about access to the White House and the ability to leverage the administration through contributions to Trump’s reelection campaign.
Restore Public Trust is one of several oversight groups that popped up in the two years after Trump’s election. Its executive director, Caroline Ciccone, told The Daily Beast when the group formed in November 2018 that it planned to look closely at administration officials who had thus far avoided scrutiny, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Restore Public Trust subsequently sued the Transportation Department for her communications after reporting by The New York Times raised questions about whether she used her position to benefit herself and her family’s shipping company. And in June, it requested that the agency’s internal watchdog investigate her potential financial conflicts of interest after The Wall Street Journal reported Chao had held on to stock that she’d vowed to divest.
Herrig said Accountable.US already has plans to expand two Restore Public Trust campaigns, one spotlighting the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border and another targeting its asserted commitment to lower prescription drug prices. The drug price initiative, which kicked off in June, included a website and a digital advertising campaign highlighting more than a dozen Trump administration officials with ties to the pharmaceutical industry, as HuffPost previously reported.
Finally, Western Values Project, the oldest of the three groups, was established in 2013 and has emerged as a well-known and influential public lands advocacy group. It is a fierce critic of Trump’s Interior Department, an agency that manages 500 million acres of federal land and is stacked with former lobbyists and industry executives, and WVP files scores of public records requests and lawsuits to obtain agency documents. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned in January amid mounting ethics scandals, all but credited WVP and other conservation groups for his downfall.
“They are operatives from the Democratic Party,” Zinke said of WVP in a November interview with Fox News. “They are hacks. They’ve always been. And they need to be investigated.”
More recently, WVP has focused its attention on David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist who replaced Zinke, and William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the agency’s Bureau of Land Management, who has deep ties to the anti-environmental movement and a history of advocating for the sale and transfer of federal lands.
As head of the umbrella group, Herrig will oversee all three nonprofits and about two dozen employees who currently work for them. Accountable.US’s five-person board is made up of veteran communicators, oversight officials and Democratic operatives, including Mindy Myers, Brad Woodhouse, Austin Evers, Shripal Shah and Jess Maher. The goal of the new venture, Herrig said, is to build a large investigative research shop and expose government malfeasance.
“We’re going to continue to call out corruption,” he said. “We existed before the Trump administration, Allied Progress and Western Values [Project], and we did work calling out corporate special interests who were trying to capture the government.
“I think they’ve just found a government that’s willing to be captured this time around.”