Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to keynote a gala event for a conservative Christian organization in Florida – an appearance that comes a month before Election Day and may violate legal and ethical guidelines.
Not only is the top US diplomat advertised as the featured guest at the Florida Family Policy Council’s 15th Anniversary Gala on October 3, a “personal visit with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo” is included with a $10,000 table sponsorship. Tickets to a VIP reception featuring Pompeo are included in $5,000 and $3,000 table sponsorships and $500 VIP tickets, according to the organization.
This could be a breach of federal regulations, according to Don Fox, former acting director and general counsel for the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE).
“There is a provision in federal regulations that prohibits executive branch employees from misusing their office for private gain, and that includes the private gain of any other entity to include in a non for profit,” said Fox.
“If Pompeo were speaking at, you can imagine, any other kind of gala event, and basically anybody could just buy a ticket at general admission, that would be one thing,” Fox explained.
“But when there is a premium placed on personal access to the secretary, I think that does cross a line in terms of ethics restrictions, because now you’re buying personal access to a cabinet member, and that goes for the benefit of this non for profit organization and doesn’t matter what the non for profit is,” he said.
“The line that’s crossed is this is actually buying personal access to him,” Fox told CNN.
Beyond the question about paid access, Fox said there is also the matter of whether speaking at a specific event aligns with the secretary of state’s mission.
“There is sort of an appearance question that he and his staff and frankly the ethics staff ought to kind of weigh about – is this in the best interest of the Department of State, and the United States government to appear in an event like this,” he said, adding that “the appearance of any kind of impropriety” factors into whether the invitation should be accepted at all.
“It’s a little hard to imagine what this organization’s legitimate interests are in US foreign policy,” Fox said, noting that if he were the top US diplomat’s ethics adviser, he’d question whether Pompeo should participate.
According to its website, the mission of the Florida Family Policy Council (FPPC) is “To Protect and Defend Life, Marriage, Family and Liberty Through Education, Advocacy and Empowerment.” It is anti-abortion and argues that “(r)eligious liberty around the country is being threatened by radical LGBT activists who will not stop until they force all Americans to approve, support and celebrate their lifestyle.”
FPPC says it “is one of 38 state-based policy councils around the country associated with Focus on the Family, Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council.” Pompeo spoke on Tuesday with the Family Research Council’s President Tony Perkins at the conservative Values Voters Summit. He has addressed a number of events focusing on religion and has been outspoken about his personal religious beliefs during his tenure as secretary of state.
The State Department did not respond to questions about Pompeo’s involvement in the organization’s anniversary gala.
FPPC President John Stemberger told CNN Saturday that the organization had invited Pompeo to appear months ago and he is not being compensated in any way. They do not plan to use any official seal on the podium when he speaks or any official backdrop other than the one with the FPPC logo on it, Stemberger said. The funds raised from the event “will go to support the work of our organization,” he said.
The FPPC event is exactly one month ahead of Election Day and is Pompeo’s second appearance in a battleground state in almost as many weeks.
Fox said the proximity to the presidential election is “a background that you can’t ignore.”
Pompeo has shattered past precedent of secretaries of state largely avoiding the domestic political fray, and violated his own State Department regulations by speaking to the Republican National Convention.
On Wednesday, he met with business leaders and lawmakers and delivered remarks in the Wisconsin state senate. The State Department defended it as “an important policy speech to the Wisconsin State Senate on why state legislators across our country must be vigilant against the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influence at the subnational level.”
This story has been updated with comments from FPPC President John Stemberger.