The Annual Report on White House Personnel has confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Anita Dunn took an anomalously low salary to shield her financial information from public view. In essence, Dunn purchased the right to secrecy.
By all accounts, Dunn is among the President’s closest and most experienced advisors, helping to determine the direction of policy affecting millions. Dunn is also the subject of considerable distrust due to her long record representing clients whose goals are at odds with this and prior Democratic administrations’. The public should be able to expect full transparency from all of its political leaders, but especially from officials as powerful and as credibly conflicted as Dunn.
With two technical maneuvers, however, Dunn has denied the public that right. First, Dunn took a temporary role on Biden’s team as a “special government employee” which, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 101(f)(8), exempts her from the public financial disclosure requirements that are mandatory for all other employees of the Executive Office of the President. (Note that Dunn has already exceeded by over 25% the statutorily specified term of a special government employee’s service). Second, Dunn appears to have taken a page out of a Trump official’s playbook and taken an artificially low salary so as to evade disclosure obligations under another provision of the statute that would override the first exemption. 5 U.S.C. § 101(f)(3) mandates transparency from “each officer or employee in the executive branch, including a special Government employee…who occupies a position…for which the rate of basic pay is equal to or greater than 120 percent of the minimum rate of basic pay payable for GS–15 of the General Schedule.” In 2021, that minimum threshold is $132,552 per year. Dunn’s salary falls just below at $129,000. All other members of Biden’s inner circle are being paid at a rate of $180,000 per year and have filed personal financial disclosures. What’s more, even the White House’s most junior staffers are required to submit to the full financial transparency that Dunn has successfully evaded.
Dunn is reportedly set to leave the White House within the coming weeks. Back at SKD Knickerbocker, she will be well-positioned to leverage her insider insight to more than recoup what appears to have been, in effect, a $4,200 per month “fee” for the right to financial secrecy.
Eleanor Eagan, Research Director for Revolving Door Project’s Governance team, said, “Those serving at the highest levels of government should not be allowed to effectively pay for the right to evade disclosure rules that apply to even the most junior staffers. Biden promised to restore trust in government in the wake of Trump’s fantastically corrupt administration: allowing this and similar evasions is a clear violation of that pledge.”