Hunter Biden paintings pose ethical challenge for president
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has established an arrangement that would allow President Joe Biden’s son Hunter to sell his artwork for tens of thousands of dollars without knowing the identity of the purchaser, an agreement established in attempt to avoid any potential ethical concerns surrounding his sales.
Under the arrangement, a private art gallery owner will set prices for his work and will handle all bidding and sales, but will not share any information about buyers or prospective buyers with Hunter or anyone in the administration. The deal was first reported by The Washington Post.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the gallerist would reject “any offer out of the normal course” and that the administration believes the agreement “provides quite a level of protection and transparency.” A person familiar with the arrangement noted that it requires the art dealer selling Hunter’s work to turn down any buyer or offer that seems out of the ordinary, including any that comes in above the asking price. The person was not authorized to discuss the arrangement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
“After careful consideration a system has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” Psaki told reporters.
“Of course he has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career.”
It marks one of the first high-profile tests of the president’s commitment to much more stringent ethics rules for his family and administration officials than his predecessor, Donald Trump, who had a daughter and son-in-law working for him in the White House and often spent taxpayer dollars at his own properties. On his first day as president, Biden signed an executive order requiring stricter ethics commitments from all administration personnel, but Hunter’s private dealings have drawn scrutiny in the past, with some critics expressing concerns that he sought to profit from the use of his father’s name during his lobbying work and work with a Ukrainian energy company.
Hunter Biden has now shifted his focus to the art world. According to an interview in Artnet, Georges Bergès, the art dealer that will sell his work, plans to host a private viewing for the president’s son in Los Angeles and an exhibition in New York. The paintings cost anywhere from $75,000 for a piece on paper to half a million dollars for large-scale paintings, the dealer said.
That’s considerably more than a typical up-and-coming artist without much experience or many sales under his belt, and it’s one of the reasons Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, says he’s uneasy about the arrangement.
“I’m baldly surprised at the pricing,” he said. “That’s part of the appearance problem.”
The concern, he said, is that regardless of who purchases the paintings, such high prices suggest Hunter Biden is profiting off his father’s name. Painter worried that foreign governments could fund the purchase through a buyer, or lobbyists could purchase the painting to win favor with those in Biden’s orbit, even if Hunter and his father don’t know the buyer’s identity.
Painter said ideally, Hunter would have waited to sell his paintings until his father left office, to avoid any appearance of impropriety — but since he’s turning to this avenue to make a living, the buyers and prices for each painting should be disclosed and recused from any work with the administration.
“I would not have chosen the secrecy route. I would have gone with the transparency route,” he said.
The executive order Biden signed reestablished and expanded on many Obama-era ethics rules. It restored a two-year ban on departing senior appointees communicating with their former agency and expanded that ban to include communications with senior White House staff. It also reestablished the Obama-era two-year ban on lobbyists working on the issue they lobbied on within the administration, among other things. He also committed before taking office that none of his family members will work in his administration.
Painter said that while the agreement concerning Hunter Biden’s paintings are not ideal, the administration overall has displayed a marked improvement on ethics matters over Biden’s predecessor.
“It’s minimal compared with Trump,” he said. “We definitely have far fewer problems with Biden.”