Did Ivanka Trump violate government ethics by tweeting about Goya beans?
- During the White House Rose Garden speech, Robert Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods said, 'We are all truly blessed to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder.”
- Unanue called the boycott against him “suppression of speech.” Unanue was previously invited to the White House for an event hosted by the Obama administration for Hispanic Heritage Month.
- The controversy has inspired a buy-cott in certain Goya Foods fans. A GoFundMe page was started on Saturday to buy Goya products to donate to food pantries. The page has almost reached its $10,000 goal.
- Wednesday morning, President Trump posted a photo of himself on his official Instagram account sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, with five different Goya products in front of him, giving a double thumbs-up.
- In 1980, a Time Magazine journalist took a photo of President Reagan eating Jelly Belly’s in his hotel during a presidential campaign stop. Reagan had such an influence that the company was 77 weeks behind in production and eventually made a new facility to keep up with business.
The United States Department of Justice states that an employee 'may not use his public office for his own private gain or for that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally...An employee's position or title should not be used to coerce; to endorse any product, service, or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction.' The Subpart of the rules linked from the Justice Department website includes specific language about 'teaching, speaking, or writing in a personal capacity.'
The official White House website lists Ivanka Trump as 'Advisor to the President,' and, as of this writing, she also identifies herself as such on her Twitter page. This role makes her subject to the Justice Department rules mentioned above, even if one views her posts on Twitter as personal communications. Furthermore, the Department of Justice has previously argued that the president's tweets are 'official statements of the President of the United States,' which may be a relevant precedent.
The tweet in question appears to be an explicit endorsement of Goya, featuring a photo of Ivanka holding up a can of their black beans, and the phrase 'if it's Goya, it has to be good,' in Spanish and English. This type of tweet wouldn't even be newsworthy if she were only the president's daughter. Still, because she does hold an official position in the administration, and because she identifies herself as 'Advisor to POTUS' on Twitter, there seems to be a violation of the ethics rules that are in place.
Ivanka Trump's tweet about Goya beans has set the media ablaze with accusations that she committed an ethics violation; spoiler alert: she did not. Critics claim that her tweet violated the Hatch Act, which defines boundaries that federal employees must observe regarding participation in political activities. The tweet appeared under her personal Twitter account and consisted of a photo of her holding a can of Goya beans. Moreover, there was no mention of or connection to Ivanka's Executive Branch role, nor was there any explicit endorsement of Goya--rather just the repeating of the famous brand's slogan in the tweet. Former Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Walter Schaub asserts that Ivanka violated a government regulation by misusing her position. However, there is no government reference contained in her tweet.
From a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that the Office of Government Ethics would take the serious action of charging Ivanka with an ethics violation in this instance. There is no professional relationship between Goya and Ivanka, there was no explicit endorsement of Goya, and the tweet appeared on Ivanka's personal Twitter page where she enjoys the same freedom of speech as every other American. It's also worth noting that the Director of the Office of Government Ethics was appointed by President Trump and would likely be hesitant to stake his job on an ethics case as weak as this one.
Coming on the heels of a White House visit by Goya's CEO, Ivanka's tweet was no doubt timed to achieve maximum outrage from the mainstream media and her father's political opponents; however, it does not represent an ethics violation.