Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo spoke about advancing AI during a May committee meeting.
Meanwhile, Raimondo's husband exercised up to $150,000 in stock options at his AI company in December 2021.
Raimondo's presence on the committee could constitute a "conflict of interest" in the future, a former OGE director said.
Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke on a committee in May discussing the regulation and advancement of artificial intelligence while her husband holds stock and is employed at a biotech AI firm.
Former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, who first pointed out the meeting on Twitter on September 2, said this could have constituted a "conflict of interest."
Shaub, now senior ethics fellow at 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.
However, her comments on "regulating AI" indicated that 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 this committee's work without running the risk that, at some point, some of her activities will qualify as a particular matter and trigger the conflict of interest [law]," Shaub said.
In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for the Department of Commerce defended the meeting, as well as Raimondo's work regulating "emerging technology," pointing to the ethics agreement that Raimondo signed prior to her confirmation.
"The Secretary disclosed her husband's place of employment in the confirmation process; the options are from his job and were disclosed," the spokesperson said. "It is also well known that the Department of Commerce regulates emerging technology."
The spokesperson 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.
In May, Raimondo spoke at the first meeting of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee, which is overseen by the Secretary of Commerce.
"AI has the potential to be part of the solution for our greatest challenges, right?" Raimondo said during the onset of the meeting. "Our greatest economic challenges. Our greatest healthcare challenges. Advancing biotechnology."
"AI has massive potential for good," she added. "The way we teach children, the way we run our businesses. It also has massive potential for bad."
Raimondo's husband Andy Moffit is employed at PathAI, according to government filings. He exercised his company stock options and received between $65,000 and $150,000 in stocks on Dec. 27, 2021, filings with the Office of Government Ethics show.
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 the measurement of therapeutic efficacy for complex diseases" using artificial intelligence technology.
Other Biden officials have had their own conflict-of-interest controversies
Key officials in the federal government in general have struggled mightily to either comply with federal conflicts of interest laws or otherwise avoid conflicts of interest, be they real or perceived.
In Congress, Insider and other media organizations have since 2021 identified 71 lawmakers who've violated the disclosure provisions of the Stop Treading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012. At least 182 senior-level congressional staffers have 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, with lawmakers expected to consider legislation this month.
The executive branch has had its moment, too.
In February, Insider's Warren Rojas reported Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the STOCK Act when she failed to properly 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 stocks after her reappointment in May 2022, CNBC reported in August. And tech-related investments by Mina Hsiang, the Biden administration's top digital officer, have also come under scrutiny this year.
Biden himself has been conspicuously silent about the federal government's conflicts-of-interest matters, ignoring calls from government reform advocates to speak out on the issue.
"The last administration didn't seem to care at all about ethics, but this one seems to approach ethics the way tax lawyers approach taxes, they look for loopholes, they look to do the bare technical minimum," Shaub said.
"They never step back and see the forest through the trees and realize okay, it may be technically legal for this Commerce Secretary to sit there on camera asking a group of experts how she should regulate AI," Shaub continued. "That's not okay."