A citizens watchdog group has filed a complaint with the FBI demanding an investigation into hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and medical company stock held by Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.
Marc Short is playing a “prominent role” in the federal response to COVID-19 even as he stands to gain from investments in the very companies that may be involved in government contracts, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“There is reason to believe he may have violated” the primary federal conflict-of-interest law by “participating personally and substantially in particular matters affecting companies in which he holds stock,” said a letter from CREW sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday.
NPR reported last month that Short owns between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of stocks in companies doing work related to the Trump administration’s pandemic response. Short even declared some of his holdings a potential conflict of interest after joining Pence’s office last year, but he did not sell them after he was denied a capital gains tax break in the event of a sale.
Short has claimed he is skirting conflict of interest issues by recusing himself from specific matters that could bolster his investments. Yet CREW wrote Wray that the “breadth of his investment portfolio casts serious doubt as to whether recusal is feasible.”
The White House press office reported earlier this year that Short was expected to attend meetings in March and April regarding the COVID-19 response with representatives from United Health Group, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Walmart and Disney — all companies in which Short has investments, CREW noted. Photos have shown him attending those meetings, according to CREW.
He and his wife also own stock in 3M, Abbott Laboratories, Gilead Sciences, Procter & Gamble, Medtronic, Bristol Myers Squibb, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Roche, NPR reported.
Several of the companies have been dealing with the White House and have even been touted by the Trump administration for their work with the government. Short himself gave a shoutout to Honeywell for manufacturing respirator masks during an interview with reporters in March (see the video above). He owns between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of Honeywell stock, NPR reported. President Donald Trump visited the Honeywell plant in early May.
Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley told NPR last month that Short has “followed all applicable ethics laws.” After the establishment of the coronavirus task force, headed by Pence, Short has “worked with legal counsel to implement appropriate recusals,” according to O’Malley.
But CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that while Short “helps craft and guide the government’s coronavirus response efforts, he appears to have maintained financial interests that could be affected by those efforts — and could influence his decision-making on important issues.”
The law requires executive branch employees to resolve conflicts of interest before participating in any decision — or even deliberations — affecting companies or specific industries in which they have investments, NPR noted. Violations can trigger civil and criminal penalties.
Under federal conflict-of-interest laws “an employee is prohibited ... from participating personally and substantially in an official capacity in any particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or any other person specified in the statute has a financial interest, if the particular matter will have a direct and predictable effect on that interest.”