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Watchdog to investigate Interior Secretary Haaland's wedding for possible improper gifts

Protect the Public's Trust is asking for transparency from the DOI regarding guest and gift lists from the wedding.

Updated: September 3, 2021 - 10:59pm

Federal ethics watchdog Protect the Public's Trust (PPT) launched an investigation on Thursday into Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's Aug. 30 wedding.

PPT's concern is that Haaland may have potentially violated federal ethics laws or guidelines by accepting improper gifts from "prohibited sources."

"The public deserves to know whether Secretary Haaland has improperly solicited or received gifts (through invitation or directly) from 'prohibited sources' or foreign governments and to what extent she may have used government resources to do it," PPT said in a statement. "We hope Interior will change course from its recent practice of stonewalling requests for information and commit to meeting its statutory obligations."

Per Interior Department gift guidance based on federal regulations, Haaland cannot, according to PPT, accept "gifts of more than $20 from prohibited sources, which include any person seeking official action with DOI, doing business or seeking to do business with DOI, conducting activities regulated by DOI, or having interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the Secretary's official duties." Under the Constitution's emoluments clause, members of the U.S. government cannot legally accept gifts from a foreign government, PPT also noted.

Haaland is a member of the Native American Laguna Pueblo tribe. The ethics restrictions covering Haaland cited above would also, according to PPT, apply to her husband, Skip Sayre, the head of marketing and sales at Laguna Pueblo Development, the hospitality and gaming arm of the Laguna Pueblo tribe.

On Wednesday, PPT announced the DOI's inspector general had opened an investigation based on a previous PPT complaint, this one against the Bureau of Land Management's Deputy Director for Policy and Programs Nada Culver.

The complaint says that prior to Culver's government appointment she worked for the National Audubon Society as the vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel and that her employer "petitioned BLM to halt progress" on Public Land Orders.

After Culver started working at BLM, she "participated personally and substantially in these particular matters in a way that advances her former employer's recommended course of action," the complaint alleges. As a result, Culver "may have been in violation of federal ethics laws and/or the Biden Ethics Pledge."

BLM declined to comment on the story, and the DOI's Office of the Inspector General did not respond to a request for comment.