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Watchdog files complaint over possible ethics violation by Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy

The group alleges the secretary had endorsed her former employer's company.

Updated: July 28, 2021 - 9:28pm

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A government ethics watchdog Wednesday filed a complaint to the Department of Energy regarding possible ethics violations by Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman.

The watchdog, Protect the Public Trust, alleged in their complaint that Speakes-Backman had violated prohibitions against endorsing her former employer, Energy Storage Association, and its member organizations a month after the watchdog had sent another ethics complaint alleging the same thing.

"The pattern is so blatant a neutral observer is left wondering whether Ms. Speakes-Backman ever participates in events that DON'T involve her former employer or its board members," Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public's Trust, said Wednesday. "The American public can rightfully ask why DOE is not taking these repeated apparent ethics violations more seriously."

The group alleges that on several occasions, Speakes-Backman, who had served as the CEO of ESA, appeared to have either endorsed her former employer or was sponsored by a major donor or board member of ESA. After they sent a letter to the DOE last month, the group says it appears that she continued "the same conduct with another ESA board member-sponsored keynote address delivered to a non-public" event that was "seeking taxpayer funds for their various corporate endeavors."

The complaint is requiring answers such as whether Speakes-Backman had endorsed, intentionally or otherwise, her former employer and its members while speaking in her official capacity, whether she relayed this information to ethics officials prior to accepting the invitations to speak, and if she had received ethics guidance, among other questions.