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Ivanka Trump’s Relationship to Her Brand Is Under Ethical Scrutiny Again

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A legal group is pushing for the Office of Government Ethics to investigate possible violations.

Ivanka Trump on the White House’s “Conversations With the Women of America” panel earlier this month.
Ivanka Trump sits on the White House’s “Conversations With the Women of America” panel earlier this month.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Ethical concerns about Ivanka Trump’s ties to her namesake clothing line have haunted the first daughter ever since she started working in the White House as an advisor to President Trump, and once more, here they are. In a letter published Monday, the nonprofit legal organization Democracy Forward urged David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, to begin an investigation into whether Trump has violated federal ethics rules.

Trump stepped down from her day-to-day role at the Ivanka Trump brand over a year ago, but a recent Wall Street Journal report found that Trump still wears the label’s clothing and accessories with notable frequency. Between March, when she started as a White House advisor, and October, Trump wore Ivanka Trump items in 68 percent of her social media posts from official government events. Some of these photos were in turn picked up by outlets like Star Style and the Daily Mail, which wrote stories that included links to purchase the items Trump wore.

This finding is the basis for Democracy Forward’s request. Government employees are prohibited from endorsing products that benefit them financially, and Trump, who still receives an income from her clothing line, certainly benefits from sales generated by celebrity websites.

“As an experienced business executive in the world of lifestyle branding and marketing, Ms. Trump is almost certainly aware of the myriad ways in which her conduct feeds this ecosystem, and the ways in which she profits from it,” write Anne Harkavy and Robin Thurston, the executive director and senior counsel of Democracy Forward.

Democracy Forward is asking for two things: first, that Trump fully divest from the Ivanka Trump brand; and second, that the Office of Government Ethics investigates whether she has coordinated with the label or with celebrity style publications on the marketing of her clothing.

Affiliate revenue from linking to products is one way that media companies (like Racked) make money, so it’s safe to say that some publications would publish product-heavy stories about Ivanka Trump’s outfits of their own volition. Both Trump and the Ivanka Trump brand have made an effort to show their distance from one another.

“While we’re not banned from speaking personally, I think it’s just easier if we talk as little as possible,” Abigail Klem, the president of Ivanka Trump, said in an interview with Refinery29 last year.

Reached by email today, a rep for the Ivanka Trump brand said that the company is apolitical, not affiliated with the White House, and does not participate in Trump’s clothing choices.

Democracy Forward, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, has a number of top Hillary Clinton campaign staffers on its board of directors. Marc Elias, now the chairman of Democracy Forward, served as general counsel on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; John Podesta was the chairman of Clinton’s 2016 campaign and an aide to Presidents Obama and Clinton; and Maya Harris, a civil rights lawyer and the sister of California Senator Kamala Harris, was a senior policy advisor on Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

In November, Democracy Forward filed a Freedom of Information Action request for information on Ivanka Trump’s role in the administration’s decision to stall a rule requiring companies of a certain size to disclose salary data by race and gender. Trump, previously a vocal advocate for equal pay, ultimately supported the freeze; Democracy Forward wanted to know why.

Charisma Troiano, a press rep for Democracy Forward, tells Racked that the organization doesn’t yet have a timeline for the inquiry into possible ethics violations.

“The question that looms over all of this is that she hasn’t divested,” says Troiano. “We wouldn’t be asking and going as hard if there weren’t a profit motive associated with it.”