Dressed in head-to-toe ivory, Ivanka Trump beams at the camera, her right hand daintily clutching a can of Goya black beans, the other palm flexed horizontally like a Kalorama Vanna White.
“If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” Ms, Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, tweeted in the accompanying caption. “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
To the White House, Ms Trump’s tweet represented a show of solidarity with Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the US, which has faced calls for a boycott after its chief executive effusively praised President Donald Trump at a White House Rose Garden event.
To ethics experts, Ms Trump’s tweet represented something else — a violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids public officials from using their public office “for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise”.
“As silly as it sounds. Ivanka Trump Promotes a Can of Beans, Violates Ethics Standards,” tweeted Scott Amey, general counsel with the non-profit Project on Government Oversight.
Joyce White Vance, a former US attorney in Alabama, said Ms Trump’s tweet was not legal and could potentially also represent a criminal violation if Ms Trump’s endorsement was requested, or if a contribution or other benefit had been made as a result of it. “No ethics left in this White House on issues big or small,” Ms Vance tweeted.
On Wednesday, after Ms Trump’s post began attracting criticism, the president posted his own photo, posing in the Oval Office with a row of Goya products, all neatly lined up on the Resolute desk, and flashing a thumbs-up behind them.
The White House insisted that Ms Trump’s photo and message had not violated the Hatch Act.
“Only the media and the cancel culture movement would criticise Ivanka for showing her personal support for a company that has been unfairly mocked, boycotted and ridiculed for supporting this administration — one that has consistently fought for and delivered for the Hispanic community,” White House spokesperson Carolina Hurley said in a statement.
“Ivanka is proud of this strong, Hispanic-owned business with deep roots in the US and has every right to express her personal support.”
Ms Trump’s tweet, which was also posted on the first daughter’s Facebook and Instagram pages, came after Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the US, faced calls for boycotting its products after its chief executive, Robert Unanue, lauded Mr Trump at a White House event for Hispanic leaders.
“We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder,” Mr Unanue said at the Rose Garden event that was billed as a Hispanic “prosperity initiative”.
Liberal activists, including the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called for a boycott of Goya products.
“Oh look, it’s the sound of me Googling ‘how to make your own Adobo’,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter, referring to the shaker that is a staple Goya product, after she retweeted a video of Mr Unanue’s comments and the message: “Make your shopping decisions accordingly.”
In a subsequent Fox News appearance, Mr Unanue defended his White House comments, noting that he had also made positive comments about Barack Obama when the Democratic president was in office. Mr Unanue called the boycott against Goya “suppression of speech”.
“So you’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed to aid in economic and educational prosperity? And you make a positive comment — all of a sudden, it’s not acceptable,” he told Fox News.
Ms Trump is not the first Trump White House official to come under fire for potential violations of the Hatch Act. The US Office of Special Counsel, an official government watchdog, recommended that Kellyanne Conway should be removed from her post as counsellor to the president because of multiple violations of the act. Ms Conway, who once promoted Ivanka Trump’s now-defunct fashion line from the White House podium, remains in post.
Jedediah Bila, a host of Fox News show Fox & Friends, called Ms Trump’s actions unethical.
“We can’t have people who work in administrations holding up products and promoting them . . . I don’t care if you love or hate the product or stand with or against the product in times of controversy. No official administration rep should be doing product promotion,” she wrote on Twitter.
Some liberal critics, meanwhile, took a satirical take on Ms Trump’s post, photoshopping the picture to replace the can of beans with her cousin Mary Trump’s scathing new memoir about the president, in one, and a bottle of Clorox in the other — a reference to Mr Trump’s suggestion that ingesting the disinfectant might deal with coronavirus.
“El delicioso!” one Twitter user wrote.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez had her own take, re-tweeting Ms Trump’s photo with a new Spanish caption: “Si es Trump, tiene que ser corrupto” (“If it’s Trump, it has to be corrupt”) — adding at the end an emoji of dollar bills with wings.