- Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke about advancing artificial intelligence during a committee meeting in May.
- Meanwhile, Raimondo’s husband exercised up to $150,000 in stock options in his AI company in December 2021.
- Raimondo’s presence on the committee could pose a “conflict of interest” in the future, a former OGE director said.
Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke before a committee in May discussing the regulation and promotion of artificial intelligence while her husband owns stock and is employed by a biotech AI company.
Former government ethics director Walter Shaub, who first pointed out the meeting on Twitter on Sept. 2, said it could have constituted a “conflict of interest.”
Shaub, now a senior ethics fellow at the Project On Government Oversight, told Insider that it “seemed pretty clear” that Raimondo’s participation in the May meeting did not violate 18 US Code § 208, which prohibits government officials from participating in matters that could directly affect financial interests.
But her comments about “regulating AI” indicated she may be working closely on issues narrowly focused on the industry, Shaub said.
“I don’t understand how she can drop in and out of the work of this committee without risking that some of her activities will at some point qualify as a particular matter and trigger the conflict of interest. [law]Shaub said.
In a statement to Insider, a Commerce Department spokesperson defended the meeting, as well as Raimondo’s work regulating “emerging technology,” and pointed to the ethics agreement Raimondo signed before her confirmation.
“The secretary disclosed her husband’s place of employment in the confirmation process; the opportunities are from his job and were disclosed,” the spokesman said. “It’s also well known that the Department of Commerce regulates new technology.”
The spokesman continued: “The secretary has a clear ethics agreement as it relates to her husband’s employment, and she remains in full compliance with that agreement.”
The Office of Government Ethics did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
—Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) 2 September 2022
In May, Raimondo spoke at the first meeting of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee, which is overseen by the Commerce Secretary.
“AI has the potential to be part of the solution to our biggest challenges, right?” Raimondo said during the beginning of the meeting. “Our greatest economic challenges. Our greatest health challenges. Advancing biotechnology.”
“AI has enormous potential for good,” she added. “The way we teach kids, the way we run our businesses. It also has huge potential for bad.”
Raimondo’s husband Andy Moffit is employed by PathAI, according to government records. He exercised his company’s stock options and received between $65,000 and $150,000 in stock on Dec. 27, 2021, filings with the Office of Government Ethics show.
Moffit works as a strategic advisor at PathAI, according to his LinkedIn, but is not listed on the company’s team website.
Raimondo’s year-end financial disclosures revealed up to $1.25 million in various stock options in PathAI by the end of 2021.
PathAI is a venture capital firm described on its website as a platform that seeks to improve “the accuracy of diagnosis and measurement of therapeutic efficacy for complex diseases” using artificial intelligence technology.
Other Biden officials have had their own conflicts of interest
Key officials in the federal government generally have struggled mightily to either comply with federal conflict of interest laws or otherwise avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
In Congress, since 2021 Insider and other media organizations have identified 71 lawmakers who violated the disclosure provisions of the Stop Treading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012. At least 182 senior-level congressional staffers also violated the law, Insider reported as part of its ongoing “Conflicted Congress”- project.
Congress is now considering whether to ban its members from trading stocks at all, and lawmakers are expected to consider legislation this month.
The executive has also had its moment.
In February, Insiders Warren Rojas reported that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the Securities Act when she failed to disclose $240,000 in stock sales before a disclosure deadline.
Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, will have to divest between $16.8 million and $48.2 million in stock after her reappointment in May 2022, CNBC reported in August. And technology-related investments by Mina Hsiang, the Biden administration’s chief digital officer, have also come under scrutiny this year.
Biden himself has been conspicuously silent on the federal government’s conflicts of interest, ignoring calls from government reform advocates to speak out on the issue.
“The last administration didn’t seem to care about ethics, but this one seems to be approaching ethics like tax lawyers approach taxes, they’re looking for loopholes, they seem to be doing the bare technical minimum,” Shaub said.
“They never step back and see the forest through the trees and realize that it might be technically legal for this Commerce Secretary to sit there on camera and ask a group of experts how she’s going to regulate AI,” Shaub continued. “That’s not okay.”