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For Immediate Release

Press Release

FOIA Response Suggests Fed’s Powell Was Dishonest about Personal Ethics Signoff

WASHINGTON -

A new letter from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors responding to a Freedom Of Information Act request casts considerable doubt on the honesty of Chair Jerome Powell’s representations of official signoff for his financial holdings which could have caused conflicts of interest last year. 

Powell explicitly claimed to have received approval from the Office of Government Ethics to continue to hold municipal bonds as the Federal Reserve undertook extraordinary pandemic response efforts, including in the muni bond market. But an inquiry from the Revolving Door Project has revealed the absence of any records of any communications of any kind between Powell and the Office of Government Ethics, suggesting that Powell received no such approval, and seemingly contradicting his earlier statement to the press. These revelations are yet another indictment of Powell’s disregard for ethics rules and disrespect for the public he is meant to serve. 

Not long after financial disclosure forms revealed apparent insider trading by two regional Federal Reserve Bank Presidents this September, Powell began facing questions about his continued holdings in municipal securities, even as the Federal Reserve began major purchases in that market. Powell has also been subject to scrutiny for his sizable trades executed in October 2020. In a September 22, 2021 interview, Powell brushed aside questions about his muni bond holdings stating that he “checked with the Office of Government Ethics, who looked carefully and said that I didn’t have a conflict.” On October 6, the Revolving Door Project submitted FOIA requests to verify that claim. We sought all communications between each of the Federal Reserve Governors, including Powell, and the Office of Government Ethics.

Today, the Federal Reserve informed us that “staff searched Board records and consulted with knowledgeable staff but did not locate any documents responsive to your request.” This indicates that there are no records of communications between January 2020 and the present in which Office of Government Ethics officials render any opinion on the propriety of any of Powell’s financial holdings or transactions. As Powell, an attorney, understands well, ethics opinions are designed not only to convey advice but to offer a shield to the recipient in case of future inquiry. Even if the financial holdings in question were discussed over the phone, it is implausible that they would not also have been transmitted to Powell in writing. Given this finding, it is difficult to see how Powell’s September 22 statements could be truthful. 

After allowing repeated, grave ethical violations to occur under his leadership, Powell has sought to assure the President, lawmakers, and the public that he takes ethics seriously. His seeming dishonesty, revealed through our requests, makes clear that he still does not. That should be disqualifying. President Biden must not renominate Jerome Powell. 

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The Revolving Door Project (RDP), a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), scrutinizes executive branch appointees to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest, rather than to entrench corporate power or seek personal advancement.

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