Uh-oh, President Barack Obama has done it again: appointed yet another friend of Wall Street to an important government position. Not only do these appointments introduce a number of conflicts of interest, but they also beg a critical question: why does a President who vows to hold the banks responsible keep giving power to friends of these same banks? Here are 5 alarming examples:
1. Mary Jo White
The most recent example is this year’s appointment of Mary Jo White to the head of the SEC. In this role, White will be tasked with regulating the banks and keeping them in line. However, the problem is her preparation for this role. For the previous ten years, White has served as a defense attorney for Wall Street banks. Having made a fortune from these big businesses, we are now being expected to trust that she’s prepared to turn on her former allies and hold them responsible for the same crimes she helped them mitigate in the past.
The administration has already faced accusations of going notoriously soft on the banks and so the solution was to appoint more of the same?
2. Jeffrey Immelt
Facing a flailing economy and lofty unemployment, Obama created the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to find solutions for one of the nation’s largest problems. Good idea, except that in 2011, Obama named Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, to head this council. As CEO, Immelt had accepted government bailouts and still sent many jobs overseas, while using most of the money to pay out top execs rather than lower employees.
It seems pretty ludicrous to put a man who exported jobs in his own company in charge of stimulating job growth domestically. Many considered the move to be Obama extending an olive branch to big business rather than an attempt to help the average American. Indeed, Immelt’s suggestions were to cut taxes on business to aid in job recovery: a policy that would line his own pockets, not most others’.
3. Gene Sperling
When Obama named Gene Sperling the chair of his National Economic Council, there was concern that the man was too entrenched with big corporations to be impartial. Sperling was able to argue that he worked only part-time for Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs. Still, this consulting working netted him over $1 million annually.
Interestingly, Wall Street and other parties involved merely laughed off the criticism. Their argument was that Sperling had only been paid $1 million, which was hardly a high enough amount to taint him. Perhaps the fact that that they consider that amount chump change is a large part of the problem.
4. Lawrence Summers
Sperling isn’t Obama’s only chief of the National Economic Council with strong Wall Street connections. Having made millions as a director at D.E. Shaw and a handful of other top banks, Lawrence Summers was a peculiar choice if Obama was hoping for substantial change. A long-time advocate for bank deregulation, he has a history of looking out for the interests of corporations rather than the majority of American citizens.
5. William Daley
Similar murmurs were heard when Obama named William Daley, a bigwig at JP Morgan his chief of staff, arguably one of most powerful positions in all of U.S. government. With nearly 8 million dollars invested in banking industry stocks, it would seemingly be impossible for his holdings not to cloud his decisions. Considering that – for better or worse (hint: worse) – the financial institutions are tied up in just about every aspect of government, Daley could hardly be considered impartial.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Other articles have done a good job compiling the surprising number of Wall Street-made millionaires who take turns on Obama’s staff, many of whom are given million-dollar farewell bonuses from their companies days before teaming with Obama as a likely gesture of “don’t forget us when you’re in power.” Combine that with the fact that Obama seems particularly keen to give government positions to his top fundraisers, and you have a lot of rich people making critical decisions about the welfare of the middle and lower classes.
While it makes sense that the President would choose to surround himself with individuals with a proven track record of success, surely there are other ways to define “success” besides making millions of dollars as a Wall Street executive. If that is a main criteria for obtaining an important position in government, we cannot reasonably expect anything but a corporatocracy to emerge.