Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff holds up to $1.6million in stocks in companies that have been linked or directly involved in the White House response to the coronavirus pandemic, it has been revealed.
There are calls for an investigation into a potential conflict of interest after it emerged that Pence’s chief staffer Marc Short not only holds the stocks but has publicly lauded two of the companies he’s invested in while speaking to the press.
Short’s boss Pence has headed up the White House coronavirus task force since February leaving Short exposed to the decision making surrounding the administration’s response to the outbreak.
Law requires, however, that executive branch employees resolve conflicts of interest before participating in any decisions or deliberations affecting companies in which they are invested.
Yet many of the medical, pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies Short and his wife hold stock in have been impacted or directly involved in the response the pandemic.
Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short, pictured right with the Vice President, owns between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of individual stocks in companies that are linked or directly involved with to the White House’s response to the outbreak, according to NPR
According to NPR, Short owns between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of individual stocks in companies that are linked to the White House’s response to the outbreak.
The law requiring conflicts of interests to be resolved before any decision making also extends to spouses and children and violations can carry potential civil and criminal penalties.
It is not yet known if Short has participated in any governmental policy decisions that could affect the companies or sectors in which he holds personal financial interests.
However, he has spoken publicly on several occasions about some of the companies while in his role as Pence’s Chief of Staff.
These include 3M, which he publicly commented on during an interview with Fox News on March 18.
‘A few weeks ago, the vice president took a trip to 3M manufacturing in Minnesota,’ Short said during the interview, before calling them the ‘primary producers’ of respirator masks.
He owns between $65,002 and $150,000 worth of stock in the manufacturing company.
Short also praised the work of Honeywell, in which he holds between $50,001 and $100,000 worth of stock, while speaking about their work producing respirator masks on March 20.
‘We are actually encouraged that the partnership with private sector can meet many of these needs,’ he told reporters.
‘As some of you know, Honeywell is wholly retrofitting one of their factories to produce more respirator masks.’
Short has spoken publicly on several occasions about some of the companies while in his role as Pence’s Chief of Staff. He’s pictured here on Meet the Press on February 23
Short also briefed the press on other occasions, despite owning the stocks that could cause the conflict.
He took questioned from reporters on February 4 and addressed the federal government’s coronavirus response on CNBC March 20 and March 24, on Fox News March 19 and March 21, and on CNN March 25, according to NPR.
As well as holding stocks in companies directly involved in the pandemic response, Short also owns stocks in companies praised by the administration for their work with the federal government, including CVS, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Walmart and Roche.
Some of Short’s largest stock investments include $53K-$145K in Thermo Fisher Scientific which was touted by President Trump on March 13 and present at the White House on April 27.
He owns between $16K-$65K in CVS which appeared at a March 13 White House Rose Garden event and has been running coronavirus drive-through testing sites.
He also owns between $116K-$315K in Procter & Gamble which appeared at a coronavirus task force briefing on March 30, and between $51K-$115K in Pfizer which took part in March 2 meeting at the White House.
A list of the stocks held by Short in companies that are linked or directly involved with the White House’s response to the outbreak. They include 3M and Honeywell which he has publicly lauded while speaking the the press in his role as the Vice President’s Chief of Staff
There are now calls for an investigation into Short’s stock ownership and whether any conflict of interest was caused.
Former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, told NPR that he believed an investigation was needed.
‘This is now a red alarm. We have enough information to know that there is a serious possibility of a conflict of interest and a very realistic chance that he may have participated in matters affecting his financial interests,’ he said.
‘We won’t know unless the FBI or the Public Integrity Section for the Justice Department do a proper investigation.’
Shaub is now with the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington who first highlighted the potential conflict of interest.
Short previously listed the stocks in some 100 companies when he reentered the Trump administration as Pence’s Chief of Staff in March 2019.
They included companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Gilead Sciences, Procter & Gamble, Medtronic, Bristol Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson.
Short himself acknowledged that the stocks could have a potential conflict of interest when he applied for a tax break often granted to government officials who must sell stock to comply with ethics laws. His tax break application was turned down but he retained the stocks
He did not divest from those stocks, however, despite himself highlighting the potential conflict of interest when applying for a tax break often granted to government officials who must sell stock to comply with ethics laws.
The certificate of divestiture from the Office of Government Ethics allows the deferment of capital gains tax and is designed to reduce the burden of complying with federal ethics laws.
Short was denied the tax break on the grounds that many stocks were in trusts for family members, which would make them difficult to divest.
‘OGE would not grant a certificate of divestiture covering individual equities because, after such a divestment, the stocks held in irrevocable generation-skipping trusts — established for the benefit of his children over which Mr. Short has no independent control — would remain,’ said Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley.
Despite acknowledging they held a potential conflict of interest in the application for the tax break, Short held onto the stocks – even those not in trusts – when his application was denied.
The refusal of an application for the tax break is not considered grounds for not divesting stock if there is a potential conflict of interest.
‘Ultimately, the responsibility is on the public official to take all necessary steps to make sure they’re either free from potential conflicts of interest or to stay away from any issues that could conflict with those personal financial interests,’ said Don Fox, a former general counsel and acting director for the Office of Government Ethics, to NPR.
Fox added that even in order to apply for the certificate, federal employees need to attest that they have possible conflicts of interest that make it necessary to divest.
‘Seeking a certificate of divestiture is not seeking approval. It’s seeking a tax break,’ Shaub added.
‘The no issuance of a certificate of divestiture does not prevent you from divesting. It prevents you from getting a tax break.’
Experts have said that Short needs to divest or recuse himself from issues that may impact his personal financial holdings.
‘It’s not uncommon for somebody in those positions to essentially divest themselves of all common stock… because you really can’t anticipate what kinds of information or what kinds of decisions their principals — their bosses — are going to have to make,’ Fox said.
‘If you’re going to be in this kind of job, you have to be able to act on anything without having to worry about conflicts of interests or recusals or workarounds.’
The administration has defended Short’s actions, however.
‘Marc Short has followed all applicable ethics laws, and even sought to divest from potential financial conflicts,’ spokesperson O’Malley said.
‘Additionally, on several occasions, including since the formation of the coronavirus task force, Mr. Short has worked with legal counsel to implement appropriate recusals.’
The Vice President’s Office has not commented on why Short has not divested potentially conflicting stocks outside the trusts.
Short has served as Pence’s Chief of Staff since March 2019 and evidence shows has repeatedly been involved in the White House response to the coronavirus crisis.
According to The Washington Post, Short has even set the agenda and sent out the White House Situation Room seating chart for the coronavirus task force meetings.