Oh, you’re unfamiliar with OpenGov and its CEO? You’re not alone. The startup, which helps governments be more transparent in their financial decisions, was by far the smallest company with a seat at the table.
It also was the only one to have received substantial funding from Thrive Capital, a venture capital firm whose founder and managing partner is Josh Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Jared, who organized the tech roundtable for the president, had a financial interest in Thrive Capital until earlier this year, reports The Wall Street Journal, when he sold his stake in the company to his brother.
Critics have long noted that the Trumps’ and Kushners’ wide web of business dealings are a clear source of conflicts of interest, potentially in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Given the nature of OpenGov’s business ... participation in the summit provided the company with invaluable access — to senior administration officials who could recommend the firm ... and to leaders of tech giants that might be interested in investing in (or possibly buying) the company,” Dana M. Radcliffe, a professor of business ethics and public policy at Cornell’s Johnson College of Business, told HuffPost, spelling out why Jared Kushner’s actions are a problem.
“In benefiting OpenGov, this coveted opportunity benefited the Kushner family, who have a stake in the startup,” Radcliffe added. “Moreover, none of OpenGov’s competitors were invited to the conference.”
Reached for comment by HuffPost, Thrive Capital stressed that it had nothing to do with soliciting an invitation to the government-sponsored event for OpenGov.
“Thrive Capital did not play any role in OpenGov’s invitation,” spokesman Jesse Derris told HuffPost in a statement, “and was not aware of its participation in the meeting until after the fact.”
In a second emailed statement, OpenGov reiterated its independence and non-partisan mission:
“The invitation to the American Technology Council meeting had nothing to do with our relationship with Thrive, an investor in OpenGov since 2013,” a company spokesman said. “At OpenGov, our mission is to power more effective and accountable government. This mission is non-partisan, apolitical, and we work with administrators across the political spectrum.”
The White House did not respond to questions from HuffPost regarding its selection process for participants. As such, it’s unclear why it specifically contacted a company linked to the Kushner family instead of an OpenGov competitor like Socrata, which told HuffPost it has contracts with numerous federal agencies and confirmed it was not invited.
“This was not a ‘potential’ conflict of interest but an actual one — a conflict on which Kushner acted, violating important responsibilities he has as a senior government official,” Radcliffe said.
“Kushner’s inviting OpenGov to the meeting was an abuse of his office not only because it benefited his family but also because it gave the company an unfair advantage over its competitors. As a public official, Jared Kushner has an obligation not to use the power of his office — or government funds — for the benefit of himself or his family — an obligation he clearly violated.”
This story has been updated with OpenGov’s statement, and to clarify that OpenGov does not currently do business with the federal government.