Since President Donald Trump entered office in January, the number of Americans concerned about rampant corruption in the White House has surged, according to public opinion polling conducted in October and November.
The Berlin-based Transparency International—a global anti-corruption coalition that defines corruption as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain"—conducted a survey entitled the U.S. Corruption Barometer 2017. The survey found that 44 percent of those polled believe corruption is "pervasive" in the Office of the President, a 12-point jump from last year, before Trump took office.
Overall, there was an increase in the percentage of Americans who believe the government is failing to fight corruption. Under Trump, about seven of 10 people believe the U.S. government is doing a poor job of eradicating and preventing corruption, up from about half of Americans in 2016.
In spite of the Trump campaign rallying cry "drain the swamp," as president, Trump has filled his administration with former lobbyists and corporate insiders. As Newsweek summarizes, the White House "has been rocked by almost daily legal and investigatory bombshells related to corruption," including:
- Trump is being sued in Maryland and Washington, D.C. for violating the "emoluments clause" of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.;
- Paul Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, has been indicted on money-laundering charges;
- Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in an investigation that also uncovered secret lobbying work for the Turkish government;
- and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, failed to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real estate company, and has repeatedly had to revise his financial-disclosure forms to add items he "forgot."
Additionally, at least six members of his Cabinet have been questioned regarding seemingly excessive travel expenses. The Justice Department has allowed Trump to skirt anti-nepotism laws to appoint his daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Kushner, as senior advisers. His sons Eric and Don Jr., meanwhile, have taken over his company's daily operations, though Trump's frequent presence at his hotels and golf courses alongside lobbyists and foreign officials has raised concerns about the ultrarich "buying access" to him.
While Trump's White House was seen as the most corrupt entity in the U.S. government and business spheres, Congress trailed closely behind; 38 percent of Americans said they believe Congress as corrupt, followed by about a third who believe individual government officials and business executives are engaged in corruption.
Although 55 percent said fear of retaliation is the main reason to not report corruption—up from 31 percent last year—nearly three-quarters of respondents said they still believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against it.
Despite a small drop in those who see voting as an effective deterrent to corruption, the ballot box remains the most popular method for fighting corruption as an ordinary person. Other forms of direct action—such as "speaking out on social media, joining a protest march, joining an anti-corruption organization, signing a petition, talking to friends or relatives, or boycotting a business"—saw increased support among respondents to this year's survey.
"Americans have expressed their frustration with Washington and its elected officials in myriad ways," Transparency International noted in response to the the results. "Yet there are things that can be done to ensure that institutions are clean and that taxpayer dollars are spent in alignment with the public's concerns and not just with special corporate and elite interests."
To combat corruption in the United States, the coalition recommends:
- Promoting transparency in political spending by providing the public with real-time information—accessible in online—about political spending by publicly traded companies and on every level of influence, including political ad campaigns, lobbying, and bundled campaign contributions.
- Preventing revolving doors by ending the unchecked exchange of personnel among corporations, lobbying firms, elected offices, and other high-level government roles.
- Establishing public awareness of ownership by outlawing anonymous shell companies that can be conflicts of interest and/or vehicles for illegal activity.
- Strengthening the ethics infrastructure by reinforcing the independence and oversight capabilities of the Office of Government Ethics.
- Improving and implementing more whistlerblower protections to shield from retaliation those who expose corruption and other misconduct by the government officials and contractors.
- Increasing public access to basic information about the government to empower ordinary people to help fight corruption.