This is an edition of the Revolving Door Project newsletter. Subscribe to the Revolving Door Project on Substack.
How better to mark the darkest day of the year than with a bit of dark humor? This winter solstice, we present our 2022 Revolving Door Superlatives, where we spotlight the most craven, captured, and corrupt personnel and policy debates of this past year. From Revolver of the Year to 2022’s Worst Look to our Biggest Personnel Nightmare Entering 2023, we have a positively ghoulish assemblage of honorees for your perverse reading pleasure. Take comfort, dear reader, in this at least: the days are only getting longer from here on out.
The race to the bottom for Revolver of the Year… ends in a tie! This award goes to every crypto hack hired from public service and former FTC commissioner Noah Phillips. When Phillips announced his plans to leave the FTC in August of this year, we speculated about which of the many corporations Phillips has sided with in FTC proceedings he would join next. His corporate-friendly voting record led us to put Amazon at the top of our list, but he made plenty of other corporate friends by undermining the FTC’s authority to regulate monopolies over the years. When we tried bringing his next move to light via FOIA requests, the FTC shielded the name of his future employer, citing Phillips’ “right to privacy,” and therefore denying the public the chance to investigate Phillips dealings for potential conflicts of interest. Phillips revealed in October that he joined Cravath Swaine & Moore, a corporate BigLaw firm whose Big Tech clients (including Amazon, Facebook and Google) unsurprisingly appear regularly before antitrust regulators. Now, those clients will have a former FTC commissioner and plenty of insider knowledge on their side as they seek to avoid accountability for their anti-competitive actions.
– Andrea Beaty
We are proud to announce the 2022 Hack of the Year: Larry Summers! Ever since he (kind of) predicted the ongoing inflation facing the United States, Summers has been an omnipresent talking head, constantly calling on the Fed to raise rates in order to throw millions of people out of work and create a recession, all because he’s wrong about the source of inflation. For some reason, he always forgets to mention that he has business interests in a number of bottom feeding lending companies that stand to profit from higher interest rates and poorer American consumers. To top it all off, Summers was also widely quoted about the collapse of FTX, pinning it on firm-level shenanigans, rather than an industry wide accounting issue. Oh, he also forgot to mention that he’s involved with some crypto companies and, therefore, stands to make money if people continue to believe that crypto isn’t a total scam. What a forgetful guy Larry is! Maybe he should write this stuff down so he doesn’t forget.
– Dylan Gyauch-Lewis
2022’s Conman Of the Year… was Sam Bankman-Fried, without contest. The now-disgraced-inmate fooled most of the business press, venture capital’s major players, Congress and even the Commodity Futures Trading Commission—but not us! We were onto Bankman-Fried’s scams early, detailing his strategy to secure a weak oversight regime for crypto way back in June 2022 (and warning that Biden needs to be wary of crypto grifters in June 2021). During his ascent to cover-page stardom, SBF turned to the usual pastimes of the wealthy: political donorship and highly publicized philanthropy, under a new guise of effective altruism. We now know that he was illegally funding these activities with customer funds, which he further blew away with ridiculous trades and acquisitions in the crypto space. The SBF episode should serve as a lesson to all those who rushed to crown him and the crypto industry as the future of finance. Speculative products with no utility have no place in our financial system, and proponents of these products should not be ushered into the halls of power at the expense of public interest.
– Timi Iwayemi
2022’s Worst Take… was the hydra-headed argument that progressives should support Manchin’s proposed permitting bill. Instead of acknowledging that increasing permitting agencies’ capacity would speed up the permitting process without creating sacrifice zones; that court challenges to energy infrastructure are an important check on corporate prioritization of profits over public and ecological health, and shouldn’t be time-limited; that involving communities earlier in infrastructure planning makes them less likely to oppose it, or any other more nuanced take… no, these pundits think progressives should squash their compassion for communities harmed by fossil fuel infrastructure and compromise their science-based commitment to keeping fossil fuels in the ground in the name of ~political realism~. How’s this for some realism: requiring (as Manchin’s proposed bill would) new fossil fuel development ensures that global warming will exceed 1.5°C, at which point several irreversible climate tipping points become likely, with dire consequences for humanity, along with the rest of earth’s species.
– Hannah Story Brown
And the title of Big Tech’s Biggest Ally goes to… Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo! In a striking commitment to corporate oligarchy and her own financial interests, Secretary Raimondo spent the past year slow-walking the public release of her calendars in an evasion of government transparency, meeting near daily with Big Tech execs, crafting massive handouts to corporations, trying to bully the EU into allowing Big Tech’s power to continue utterly unabated, and upholding her storied legacy of protecting monopolies and monopolists. Because of these reasons and more, we have awarded Raimondo—amidst a year of historic competition—“Big Tech’s Biggest Ally” of 2022. Congratulations!
– Toni Aguilar Rosenthal
2022’s Most Underfunded Agency… was and remains the National Labor Relations Board. The omnibus provides a measly $25 million budget increase for the NLRB, $20 million short of the NLRB’s request. In the words of the NLRB union, perpetual underfunding has resulted in the NLRB being “dramatically understaffed,” and this proposed increase is “not enough to replenish the agency.” The NLRB needs to dramatically ramp up their staffing if they’re going to have the capacity to conduct fair union elections, investigate unfair labor practices, and prosecute corporate shenanigans. With workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Activision and elsewhere organizing their workplaces, now is the time to make sure the NLRB is fully funded to have their backs. Amidst significant inflation and after nine years of a stagnant budget, a $25 million increase simply won’t do. The NLRB “winning” this award is a devastating loss for working people across the nation.
– KJ Boyle
2022’s Most Underappreciated Agency…was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Under Rohit Chopra’s leadership, the CFPB has taken multiple major enforcement actions against a variety of corporate criminals, including a $37.5 million fine to the U.S. Bank for exploiting customers’ personal data, a $22 million fine against Trident Mortgage for discriminating against qualified minority families seeking home ownership, and a lawsuit against payday lender ACE Cash Express for extracting re-borrowing fees those eligible for free repayment plans. As if these efforts weren’t impressive enough, the CFPB has continued to stand up for the American public against corporate interests while outflanking attacks on its leadership and very existence by the Chamber of Commerce—America’s largest corporate lobbying group—and Trump-appointed judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, respectively. Chopra’s appointment has been a breath of fresh air to the CFPB following its systemic neglect during the Trump administration, and the precedent he’s set this year, if sustained, could very well mark the agency’s return to form as “Washington’s most feared financial regulator”. Yesterday’s announcement that the CFPB was fining Wells Fargo $3.7 billion for a litany of consumer abuses is a crowning accomplishment of the CFPB’s remarkable work in 2022.
– Julian Scoffield
Most Frivolous, Wasteful, and Poisonous goes to…. The Department of Defense! The DoD spent the year losing track of billions in taxpayer funds and failing their fifth consecutive audit, poisoning service-members and the public, failing to address rampant sexual abuse within military ranks, and more. Now they’ve been rewarded for their efforts with a record budget of $858 billion dollars for 2023. A superlative well-deserved!
– Toni Aguilar Rosenthal
Most Underutilized Executive Power… would be Biden’s failure to declare a climate emergency, which would unlock new powers and resources for the executive branch to curb profound ongoing harms to our planet. Runners up include the EPA’s little-used authority to refer environmentally-destructive decisions made by other federal agencies to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for review—which could rein in bad decisions made by the USPS and Tennessee Valley Authority, among others—and the Biden administration failing to address rent as 1) too damn high and 2) a main driver of inflation over the past year.
– Hannah Story Brown
2022’s Worst Look… might have been December 2nd’s study in unflattering contrasts, when Biden and Macron donned formal tuxedos to feast on Maine lobster at a lavish state dinner, just hours after Biden signed legislation denying railworkers paid sick leave and the legal right to strike. But the last twelve months have offered some fierce competition for this prize. Should the winner be Biden in a purple and gold tie in May, asking oil companies to drill more in response to Putin’s war? Or should it be Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, revealing himself as the hawk in dove’s clothing we knew he was all along, and threatening millions of workers with unemployment in a heavy-handed attempt to lower inflation? Perhaps only time will tell which fit cast the deepest pall.
– Hannah Story Brown
Worst Relevant Track Record… goes to Mitch Landrieu, who Biden tasked with guiding implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Landrieu was Mayor of New Orleans, a city that has been described as a “prime example of crumbling infrastructure” due to the fact that streets flood on a near-daily basis in summer months and the city sees regular boil water advisories thanks in part to its atrociously corrupt Sewerage and Water Board, from 2010-2018. It’s almost humorous how bad of a match-up Landrieu is for this specific job—that is, it could be laughable if there weren’t hundreds of millions of lives on the line, and if Landrieu wasn’t so invested in the fossil fuel industry and so committed to neoliberal principles of privatization and deregulation.
– Dorothy Slater
In the Good Nominations Most Depressingly Blocked By Corporate Interests category, we have a three way tie! Sarah Bloom Raskin, who could have galvanized climate finance reforms as the Federal Reserve’s Vice Chair for Supervision, was sunk by being too pro-capitalism and not going out of her way to support the oil lobby. The post instead went to the milquetoast Michael Barr, who’s biggest accomplishment was watering down Dodd-Frank. David Weil, nominated to run the IRS’s Wage and Hour Division, became the first Biden nominee to be defeated in a Senate floor vote. All Republicans and three Democrats decided that he was too strongly opposed to worker misclassification as independent contractors. If they hadn’t intervened, he could have overseen such atrocities as making sure employers actually provide legally required benefits and don’t circumvent worker safety rules! The horror! Last, but certainly not least, is Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn, who’s nomination was derailed by a massive smear campaign orchestrated by the telecom industry. The FCC remains deadlocked at 2-2 without her, leaving chair Jessica Rosenworcel unable to push through important reforms.
– Dylan Gyauch-Lewis
Highest Salary in the Federal Government (And It Shows)… goes to Jeff Lyash, CEO of the federally-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, who raked in nearly $10 million last year. Lyash’s salary is not funded by taxpayers, but it is funded by TVA customers who have no choice about paying their energy bills to this public utility. Worse, Lyash’s bonus structure incentivizes him to prioritize fossil fuel energy, and he’s set to make the god-awful decision of replacing two aging coal plants with gas instead of renewables. Read more about Lyash, the TVA itself, and *currently available* levers for the rest of the executive branch to limit his power.
– Dorothy Slater
Biggest Personnel Nightmare Entering 2023… Jeffrey Zients may become the next White House Chief of Staff, which would only be a good thing if you think the solution to all of our societal problems is to flatter billionaires even more. We’ve spent years warning about Zients, a McKinsey-style corporate consultant with a history with sketchy medical billing and for-profit colleges. (He’s also friends with Donald Graham, whose family used to own the Washington Post. Their editorial board later attacked us for criticizing Zients…coincidence?) Zients’ only skill is in telling powerful men what they want to hear. His limitations reveal themselves as soon as he’s in charge of an actually complicated task which he can’t just turn over to better qualified underlings. Case in point: Zients was the COVID-19 czar in 2021, and both failed to make America a “vaccine arsenal” for the world, and somehow didn’t see the winter case wave coming — even though he was warned by actual epidemiologists. That December, Americans faced massive shortages for COVID-19 tests, right when everyone was traveling to be with elderly family members for the holidays. The man responsible for that catastrophe has waged a yearlong shadow campaign to replace Ronald Klain, and may yet get his wish—again, he is very good at flattering powerful men, including Presidents. If he’s the gatekeeper to the oval office, good luck to us all.
– Max Moran