A nonprofit group is challenging President Trump over his infrastructure council, claiming that the panel has been operating in secrecy and that its co-chairs have potential conflicts of interest.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Food & Water Watch claims that the administration violated federal public access requirements in establishing and running the new panel.
In addition to Trump, the lawsuit also lists the Transportation and Commerce departments as defendants.
Trump announced in January that he was putting billionaire real estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth in charge of the council, which is helping oversee his proposed $1 trillion rebuilding push and vetting transportation projects.
But Trump only recently issued an executive order to formally establish the group.
In its complaint, the nonprofit group alleges that the White House violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires advisory panels to publicly disclose meetings and members and requires membership to be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.
The complaint alleges that LeFrak and Roth both have “longstanding personal and financial ties to the President” and have their “own development projects that stand to benefit from the council’s decisions and recommendations.”
The lawsuit also claims that the council has been “meeting, suggesting policy proposals, and rendering advice” in private.
It says the council has met on numerous occasions but failed to disclose those meetings in the federal register, while it has not made any materials available that the panel has generated or received.
The White House, which has come under fire over transparency concerns in the past, said that all of its advisory groups comply with federal laws.
“While we have no comment on any specific litigation regarding the President’s Advisory Council on Infrastructure, the White House ensures that all advisory groups are fully compliant with any and all applicable federal rules and regulations,” said a White House spokeswoman.
The lawsuit claims that the infrastructure council is part of a broader pattern of “establishing advisory committees, largely populated by President Trump’s business associates and friends, to advise him and agency secretaries on economic and business-related matters”
“This practice, in effect outsourcing policy making to private individuals who are unfettered by conflict-of-interest rules and other public accountability standards, has raised a host of ethical and transparency concerns,” the complaint added.