Wilbur Ross’s Web of Financial Conflicts

American Oversight has been investigating Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s complicated maze of finances, identifying a number of serious ethics issues related to the billionaire’s failure to divest certain assets and his industry-heavy meeting schedule.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The complexity of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s financial disclosures has made it difficult to determine how well he has complied with his ethics agreements since joining the administration in 2017. But a number of reports and findings over the past few years have raised questions about whether Ross has been using public office to grow his already considerable wealth.

Ross’s fortune came from restructuring distressed steel, coal and textile companies, efforts that often included the dumping of workers’ health and pension benefits. At the time of his confirmation as secretary, Ross pledged to divest millions in assets. But since then, stocks he delayed in divesting have increased in value, and omissions and mistakes on his financial disclosures even resulted in the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) refusing to certify his 2018 disclosure report.

In one instance, a tranche of stock Ross owned increased in value by between $1.2 million and $6 million. In another instance, Ross did not divest BankUnited stock he had twice submitted sworn statements that he had divested. His delay in selling the stock until October 2018 prompted OGE Director Emory Rounds to say that he would not certify the secretary’s 2018 financial report because Ross was “not in compliance with his ethics agreement.” The intricacy and breadth of Ross’s financial holdings — as evident by the photo here of a diagram of just a portion of his assets — lend an added layer of opacity to other possible violations.

Ross’s stakes in transoceanic shipping companies has also raised concerns, given the commerce secretary’s involvement in U.S. trade policy. One of those companies, Navigator Holdings, which Ross has since said he’s sold his stake in, was linked to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And Ross’s 2017 calendars, obtained by American Oversight, reveal multiple meetings Ross had with a natural gas exporter connected to Navigator as well as other extensive contacts with industry groups. In addition, Ross’s former chief of staff, Wendy Teramoto, had previously been on the board of Navigator and had a role at WL Ross & Co.

Another potentially problematic connection is the social relationship Ross and his wife have with sugar producers and political donors Jose and Alfonso Fanjul, the former of whom Ross met with in 2017 to discuss the sugar trade. And in 2017, Ross discussed business with Chevron executives while his wife owned a $250,000-plus stake in the company. Several years into the Trump administration, it’s still not clear the extent to which Ross has complied with his recusal or divestment obligations. American Oversight is committed to connecting the dots and untangling the secretary’s vast web of financial holdings.

LITIGATION

In March 2019, American Oversight sued the Department of Commerce for a wide range of Ross’s communications. They include those with various business interests and representatives of the sugar industry, or about Navigator Holdings, as well as for records related to a number of 2017 meetings Ross held with industry representatives. The lawsuit also seeks his communications with entities named in his ethics agreement and any communications about his ethics disclosures.

Related Documents

June 5, 2020

Commerce Communication Records with Chevron Corporation

Department of Commerce
April 6, 2020

ORR Seeking Former Kentucky Governor Bevin’s Communications with Wilbur Ross

Kentucky Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 18, 2020

Commerce Calendars for Secretary Wilbur Ross and High-Ranking Agency Officials

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
September 25, 2019

Commerce Communications with Businesses Linked to Wilbur Ross Investments

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
July 15, 2019

Commerce Records of Secretary Wilbur Ross’ Correspondence with Greenbrier and Other Companies

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
December 10, 2018

No Records Response from ITA Regarding Aluminum Tariff Search Terms

Commerce - International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce
Agency Reply
November 29, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Wilbur Ross’ Personal Email Communications

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 15, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Senior Staff Calendars

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Records Related to Wendy Teramoto

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Regarding Ross’ Meetings with the Sugar Industry

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications Regarding Navigator Holdings

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Wilbur Ross Communications with Terms Related to Aluminum

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Ethics Communications

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Records Related to Ross’ Financial and Industry Meetings

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications with Financial Companies

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications Regarding Ross’ Ethics Agreements

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 5, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ 2017 Calendars

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
June 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Scheduler Communications with Outside Entities

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
March 2, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Regarding Steel Tariffs

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
February 27, 2018

OGE Communications Regarding Wilbur Ross’ Nomination

Office of Government Ethics
Agency Record
November 1, 2017

FOIA to Commerce for Calendars of Senior Officials

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request