Ethics Experts Baffled By Report Of Ivanka Trump’s New Fund For Women

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LATE UPDATE 6:11 p.m. ET: The White House told the Washington Post late Wednesday that Ivanka Trump proposed the creation of a new fund to support female entrepreneurs, but would not control it. Though details of the proposal remain hazy, the World Bank is expected to manage the fund, which would likely offer both money and technical assistance to corporations, according to the Post.

Axios published a late update to its story to note that the World Bank, not White House, would manage it. The bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, also released a statement saying he was “working with partners on the details around creating a facility for women’s economic empowerment, specifically through providing access to finance, markets, and networks.” Kim thanked Ivanka Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for their “leadership” on the issue.

Original story below:

White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump is establishing a “massive fund” to “economically empower women” that will be funded by contributions from foreign countries and corporations, Axios reported in a vague, five-paragraph bombshell on Wednesday.

According to Axios founder Mike Allen, Trump told him directly that she has already started soliciting funds to support the fund, which will provide “working and growth capital to small- and medium-sized enterprises,” and that she has support from President Trump and World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim to pursue the project.

A spokesman for the World Bank confirmed to TPM that Kim and Ivanka Trump are currently in talks about how best to finance it. The pair co-authored an op-ed for the Financial Times this week about the need for both the public and private sectors “to move decisively to invest in women worldwide.”

But what exactly Ivanka Trump’s fund will look like and how it will operate remains a giant question mark. Ethics experts told TPM that Axios’ description leaves it unclear if the fund will be a private, for-profit endeavor or if it will be run through a federal government agency.

“We just don’t know what this is: is it animal or mineral?” Kathleen Clark, an ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a phone interview.

“Some of the questions that need to be answered are: is it being done through governmental authority or not? Instead of private equity, is it intended as some sort of non-profit?” Clark said.

Axios, the White House, and the Office of Governmental Ethics did not immediately respond to requests for additional information.

Federal employees face restrictions on soliciting funds for charitable organizations out of concern that solicitees could feel coerced into making donations, Clark said. She didn’t know if similar restrictions existed for federal employees soliciting private equity, but said it was unclear that Ivanka Trump had “any governmental authority” to make such requests.

On the other hand, Clark said, “This would not be okay for her to do in a private capacity” because her White House role would give the impression she was doing it on behalf of the Trump administration and create a whole web of possible conflicts of interest.

“It absolutely cannot be a private fund,” Richard Painter, ethics czar in George W. Bush’s White House, told TPM. “She can’t be at the White House soliciting money for a private foundation. We went through this with Hillary Clinton, who resigned from her foundation when she took a job as secretary of state.”

Painter said he doesn’t believe the Trump administration would “even think” of setting up an outside private foundation, and suggested it could be run through a government agency that has statutory authority to accept gifts.

“That’s what would be required: an official U.S. government agency with the authority to solicit gifts and to administer the funds,” Painter said.

Clark noted that the Axios report made it sound like they were soliciting investments rather than gifts, and that the words “massive fund” make it sound like a private sector initiative.

Axios’ reporting on the early contributors who have made “quiet commitments” offer few hints on the nature of the fund. It says only that “several corporations,” as well as “Canadians, Germans and some Middle Eastern countries” have vowed to contribute money, leaving it unclear if the donors are foreign governments, companies in those countries, or individual foreign citizens.

Ivanka Trump and the governments of both Germany and Canada have paid collective lip service to the need to support female entrepreneurship.

When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House in March, he, the President, and Ivanka Trump announced a new Canada-US task force on women in business and female entrepreneurs: the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. Canadian publication Maclean’s published a story last week questioning how much progress the task force has since made, noting that no meetings have yet been scheduled and that “there is no apparent infrastructure” supporting the group.

The President’s eldest daughter was also invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend a summit organized by the Group of 20 major economies in Berlin this week. During a Tuesday panel on feminism and female empowerment, she was booed by the audience for calling her father a “tremendous champion of supporting families.” Both Merkel and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland shared the stage.

“I’m seeking the counsel … of informed and thoughtful women and men and I’m really striving to think about how best to empower women in the economy, both domestically and across the globe,” Ivanka Trump told the audience.

What that plan looks like remains to be seen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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