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Steve Bannon’s Shadow Press Office May Violate Ethics Laws

The White House chief strategist has a secretive outside PR firm

Steve Bannon, the right-wing media mogul-turned-White House chief strategist, may be violating three federal laws with his use of a shadow press office helmed by a private PR executive, the Center for Public Integrity said Thursday.

Republican media strategist Alexandra Preate has been working — for free — as Bannon’s personal spokesperson and media contact, but has also been working alongside the White House Press Office on some of its messaging and responses to reporter inquiries, which could be in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, the center said.

The act, which no one has ever been convicted of violating, says that federal government employees “may not accept voluntary services for [the] government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law.”

A violation of that act would not fall on Preate, a private citizen, but on the White House staff, the center said.

“She seems to be privy to government information, and she appears to be acting on behalf of a government entity, either Bannon or the White House Press Office,” Norm Eisen, the ethics czar during the Obama administration, told the Center for Public Integrity. “If she’s doing it for free, then that is a potential violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

TheWrap had previously reported on Preate’s role in generating good publicity for Bannon, identifying her as the boss and employer of publicist Maria Sliwa in November.

Sliwa sent emails to TheWrap and other outlets offering interviews with individuals who would compliment Bannon — but declined to say who she represented. She eventually conceded that she was working for Preate.

Eisen and others interviewed by the Center for Public Integrity said Bannon’s acceptance of Preate’s gratis labor could also be in violation of 18 U.S. Code section 209, which “prohibits employees from being paid by someone other than the United States for doing their official Government duties,” according to the Office of Government Ethics.

And even if Preate’s work was to be considered a gift, it could violate ethics rules barring government from accepting gifts from outside sources, Brendan Fischer, who leads the federal ethics and election law reform project at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told the Center for Public Integrity.

 

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