The lawsuit added: “This practice, in effect outsourcing policy making to private individuals who are unfettered by conflict-of-interest rules and other public accountability standards, has raised a host of ethical and transparency concerns.”
Natalie Strom, a White House spokeswoman, said, “While we have no comment on any specific litigation regarding the president’s advisory council on infrastructure, the White House ensures that all advisory groups are fully compliant with any and all applicable federal rules and regulations.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit this month, asserting that the commission on election integrity established by Mr. Trump did not comply with the Advisory Committee Act, the same issue raised in the Food and Water Watch complaint. In response, the White House created a public website for the commission, disclosed its introductory email and the agenda of a conference call its members held and also posted public comments, many of which criticized harshly its mission and leaders.
Mr. Trump is not the first president to try to shield his administration’s policy deliberations from public attention. President Bill Clinton faced a lawsuit in 1993 over his health care task force, a panel that was led by his wife, Hillary Clinton. That suit said it should be subject to the advisory committee law, which has an exemption only for entities made of entirely of full-time members of the administration.
But some experts believe the Trump administration has gone further than its predecessors in flouting the rules.
“What we’re seeing here is almost a wholesale avoidance of the Advisory Committee Act by the Trump administration, and that is dangerous, because it allows this basically shadow government to form,” said Lawrence M. Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group.
Whatever its outcome in court, the lawsuits raise uncomfortable questions about Mr. Trump’s heavy reliance on business executives for policy input in closed-door meetings. During the first hundred days of his administration alone, nearly 300 private-sector leaders visited the White House, and many agreed to join advisory panels on topics ranging from manufacturing to job creation.
Some of those advisers are wielding substantial influence. Stephen A. Schwarzman, the private equity executive, for example, is chairman of a business advisory council made up of more than a dozen chief executives that helped convince the president to soften his stance on young undocumented immigrants.
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