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Newsletter | January 22, 2021


2020 Election/TransitionLarry Summers

This newsletter provides regular updates on Biden Administration personnel decisions. While we do not claim to capture the full powers and responsibilities of these positions, we will discuss the top Administration jobs Biden has yet to fill. We also discuss the individuals vying for top jobs who present serious conflicts of interest. 

Interested in learning more? Our Personnel Map tracks how corporate sectors influence particular areas of the executive branch. Check out NoCorporateCabinet.com to learn more about our efforts to push the Biden Administration to seal the revolving door. To track the personal financial disclosures of nominees and appointees, check out our blog here

Top Open Jobs

Comptroller of the Currency: The head of the OCC has immense power over the financial industry as one of its top regulators. The office distributes and manages charters for banks that operate across state lines and sets rules about how much risk banks can take on. Since the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the Comptroller’s office has had greatly expanded powers to investigate banks’ actual balance sheets. Technically, this individual will have the power to decide which activities are considered “banking” and thus subject to the OCC’s regulation. The OCC also has the ability to set and enforce regulations that require banks to consider climate impact in risk assessments. The nascent FinTech industry is particularly interested in coercing the Comptroller’s regulatory powers, especially its enforcement of Know Your Customer anti-money laundering requirements.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator: The CMS Administrator is charged with overseeing healthcare programs for over 130 million Americans, a major responsibility even when not in the midst of a global pandemic. This position has the ability to make healthcare more accessible to the communities most vulnerable to the pandemic and ensure this health care is affordable. On the top of Biden’s CMS Administrator’s to-do list will be to roll back the damage Trump’s CMS Administrator Seema Verma inflicted. Verma innovated the right-wing idea of adding work requirements to Medicaid access at the state level, a inhumane policy even when the nation is not suffering an historic pandemic-induced recession.

Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division: A position that will have enormous power reining in monopolistic industries, including Big Tech, the head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division should be a staunch believer in competitive markets and willing to aggressively sue to enforce antitrust laws. After years of platforms like Facebook and YouTube allowing violent and hateful rhetoric to flow freely and exacerbate far-right radicalization, and billions of dollars spent by Big Tech lobbyists to block government regulation, Biden’s head antitrust lawyer will play a key role in protecting and restoring democracy and economic liberties. That’s to say nothing of the many other hyper-consolidated industries in the American economy, including Big Ag. Unfortunately, Big Tech has already been attempting to influence Bidenworld by pushing their top lawyers to run the agency tasked with their regulation. Biden must resist this pressure and select an individual who will serve the public interest, not Big Tech. 

OIRA Administrator: OIRA is perhaps the most powerful agency that almost no one outside of the Beltway has heard of. It wields direct oversight and veto power over most of the American regulatory state — it can issue orders to regulators housed within Cabinet departments and has considerable informal influence over independent agencies too. It claims to conduct “cost-benefit analysis” to decide if a given regulation is worth the cost, but this necessarily requires so many subjective calls that it’s essentially up to the whims of the agency. OIRA has too often been a corporate lobbyist’s ace in the hole for fending off tough regulation of their sector, even (especially!) under Democratic presidents. We are encouraged to see that Sharon Block, a union ally and critic of deregulation, was appointed to lead the office in an acting capacity.

IRS Commissioner: Naturally, the IRS Commissioner oversees tax collection policies and priorities. Everyone, even Larry Summers, has noted that if we just collected the taxes already on the books and redirected auditing resources from harassing the desperate to cracking down on the opulent, we’d both generate enormous government revenue and (more importantly) have a far more equal society. The IRS is also crucial to the distribution of stimulus checks to Americans in desperate need of support. Biden will need to select a high-energy Commissioner who can get money into peoples’ hands efficiently. Current IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig’s term is due to end in November 2022, but there is actually nothing preventing the President from firing the IRS Commissioner at any time — the IRS is not an independent agency. Given how Rettig has aided and abetted the Trump-era graft which Biden ran against, Biden should fire Rettig.

Assistant Treasury Secretary for Investment Security: This person runs the cross-agency team that investigates any national security concerns about foreign actors investing in or owning American companies (that team is called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.) They have extremely broad leeway to look into the financials and internal documents of any megacorporation with significant foreign ownership. Most especially, if a foreign company is purchasing a domestic one, this committee can force divestment. Since 2018, they’ve also had specific powers over private equity investing.

Associate Director for Performance Management, OMB: In addition to its budgetary role, OMB’s Associate Director for Performance Management is a crucial figure when it comes to personnel across the entire federal government. The Associate Director works closely with the Director of the Office of Personnel Management to identify personnel-related gaps that undermine government performance and to develop remedies. These two jobs are some of the only appointees whose job it is to staff the executive branch with competent and mission-driven civil servants. 

RDP Watchlist

Michael Barr: Michael Barr was Barack Obama’s Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions from 2009 – 2010, where he helped insulate the biggest banks from accountability for the 2008 financial crisis as a loyal foot soldier of then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Barr exalted Geithner as a hero upon Geithner’s exit from the Obama administration (Geithner took a job a private equity firm shortly after leaving Treasury.) Barr specifically helped design the much-maligned HAMP program, which was intended to aid homeowners threatened by bankruptcy, but ended up part of a policy of transferring risk and debt from the banks to the government and public, largely thanks to Geithner. Since the Obama years, Barr has advised and served on the boards of many “fintech” companies (some with troubling company histories) and advises industry-funded think tanks on their advocacy for deregulating and digitizing the financial system. He has been floated as a top choice to lead the OCC, a top financial regulator, to the disappointment of progressive groups and lawmakers.

Susan Davies: After leaving the Obama Administration’s White House Counsel office, where her judicial nominations team appointed corporate lawyers to 71% of open judgeships, Susan Davies joined the conservative law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Former employer to Brett Kavanaugh; Robert Bork; Ken Starr; and Trump Attorney General William Barr, Kirkland & Ellis has been known as a holding pen for conservative lawyers between Republican Administrations. Trump’s Department of Justice was so full of Kirkland lawyers that one of the top officials joked, “our philosophy is that an agency can never be led by too many lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis.” The firm is also known for taking on notorious clients like Jeffrey Epstein and defending BP after the devastating Deepwater Horizon spill. Davies herself has defended Facebook and several other corporate clients who faced antitrust investigations. 

Renata Hesse: Renata Hesse is a Sullivan & Cromwell antitrust lawyer who has practiced antitrust law on behalf of Amazon (in its acquisition of Whole Foods), Google (to quash an anti-monopoly investigation in Texas, alongside then-lawyer Ted Cruz), and American Express. She served in Obama’s DOJ Antitrust Division as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust where she approved several large mergers, including between Time-Warner Cable and Comcast, US Airways and American Airlines, Arcadian and Humana, and AT&T and T-Mobile. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Hesse worked at Google’s go-to law firm Wilson Sonsini.

Charles Yi: Yi revolved out of the FDIC to a lucrative role at Arnold & Porter, where he advises corporate firms that have often lobbied on the very issues he worked in while in government. On his law firm’s website, Yi advertises his insider knowledge of financial regulation and government stimulus programs to his corporate clients. During the pandemic, his practice group has helped corporations access taxpayer-funded federal stimulus programs. Yi is on Biden’s Treasury Agency Review Team and may be in the running for a high level position at Treasury or SEC.

Mark Gitenstein: Gitenstein is a longtime ally of Biden, serving as the President-Elect’s chief counsel when he was in the Senate. Gitenstein then revolved out of public office to lobby on behalf of corporate clients, often fighting against the passage of Democratic and populist legislation. As a lobbyist, Gitenstein helped accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which was committing fraud in its auditing of Enron, avoid oversight. Gitenstein also lobbied on behalf of military contractors, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics, to make it harder for civil servants to expose government fraud. Biden himself called the bill for which Gitenstein was lobbying “absolutely outrageous.” In his role lobbying for asbestos companies, Gitenstein pushed for the passage of a Bush-era law making it harder for asbestos victims to sue corporations. Gitenstein’s history as a corporate lobbyist was so infamous that Public Citizen successfully convinced Obama not to appoint him to lead the Office of Legal Counsel in 2009. Instead, Obama gave Gitenstein the ambassadorship to Romania, where he continued his track record of self-dealing. As ambassador, Gitenstein focused on expanding US corporate involvement in Romania and privatizing Romanian industry, while looking the other way toward Romanian President Traian Băsescu’s authoritarian political tactics. A totalitarianism expert castigated Gitenstein’s tenure in Romania, noting that Băsescu later gave him a seat on a government-led fund that held shares of Romania’s most profitable companies. Gitenstein continues to cash in on his Romanian connections today at BigLaw firm Mayer Brown, where he consults corporations looking to expand or solidify their Romanian presence.

Sarah Bianchi: Bianchi is a long time Democratic operative and corporate revolver. She has used her government experience to land a number of high-profile jobs in the corporate sector. First as a hedge fund investor, she worked in an industry that benefited greatly from President Clinton’s deregulatory agenda. Then, Bianchi took a top job at BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor in fossil fuel companies. After just two years there, Bianchi was tapped to run Airbnb’s lobbying shop. Under her leadership, Airbnb quadrupled its lobbying staff and doubled its lobbying spending. Her office worked to weaken worker protection laws. Now, Bianchi works at Evercore and has used her position to speak about politics from Wall Street’s perspective.

Heidi Crebo-Rediker: From 1990 to 2006, Crebo-Rediker worked for some of the most infamous Wall Street banks that helped cause the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Before joining Bear Stearns as Head of European Debt Capital Markets in 2005, Crebo-Rediker was the Head of Emerging Markets and Debt Capital Markets at Lehman Brothers. Crebo-Rediker left Wall Street just in time to avoid the fallout, starting a new initiative at the New America Foundation where she argued that the federal government should cede power to financial institutions and partner with the private sector to invest in infrastructure projects. In 2012, Crebo-Rediker joined the State Department where she helped implement Secretary Clinton’s “economic statecraft” agenda, pushing for pro-corporate trade agreements like TPP. After leaving the White House, Crebo-Rediker monetized her government connections, opening up her own consultancy where she advises financial firms on trade and financial policy. She also serves on the board of asset advisory firm Campbell Lutyens, where she advises on the firm’s private equity transactions.

Leslie Caldwell: Former assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell has close ties to the Biden world. She served in the Obama Department of Justice, and Biden picked her to serve on his transition advisory board. Caldwell has swung through the revolving door between BigLaw and the Department of Justice twice. First, after serving on the Department of Justice’s Enron Task Force, Caldwell took a high-profile private-sector job at corporate law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, where her clients included major banks and defense contractors. In 2014, Obama tapped Caldwell to lead the Criminal Division of his Department of Justice, where she was largely lenient toward white collar crime. At the end of Obama’s term, Caldwell returned to the private sector, this time at Latham & Watkins, where she represented corporate clients facing white-collar criminal investigations and prosecutions.

*Have a position or individual you would like to add to our list? Email [email protected].

2020 Election/TransitionLarry Summers

More articles by Miranda Litwak

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