What it takes to get on CNBC’s power list
By Gin Armstrong • Jan 24, 2014 at 12:37 EST
CNBC is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and kicking off the yearlong fête with a viewer-generated “definitive” ranking of those who “have had the greatest influence, sparked the biggest changes and created the most disruption in business over the past quarter century.” According to a press release, the pool of contenders were chosen based on the following criteria:
- A person must have been more than a good CEO. He/she should have altered business, commerce, management or human behavior—in other words, the person should have been responsible for ushering in meaningful change, with business being the primary sphere of influence.
- A person does not need to be alive, and his/her early work may have predated 1989, but his/her transformative impact should be greatest during the past 25 years.
- The pool of candidates should be diverse, reflecting different geographies and sectors.
The selection of 200 nominees was compiled by CNBC’s own “elite advisory board,” which included Paul Steiger, former Wall Street Journal managing editor and ProPublica founding editor. The list will be whittled down to just 25 through online voting. Former Forbes executive editor Paul Maidment will serve as an editor on the project.
It is quite the list. There is the questionable yet inevitable inclusion of J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who recently led his company through record-breaking settlements with the Department of Justice, and more curious choices such as recently indicted SAC founder Steven Cohen (fined $1.8 billion for insider trading), former Enron CEO Ken Lay (found guilty for conspiracy and fraud), former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski (recently released on parole), and disgraced WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers (currently serving a 25 year sentence).
The “Bridgegate” scandal has shone a spotlight on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public authority responsible for the George Washington Bridge lane closures. Christie political appointees at the Port Authority ordered the closures, apparently as an act of political retribution; now the Daily Beast is referring to the organization as Christie’s Crony Clubhouse and the Washington Post is telling readers “how patronage politics ate the Port Authority.”
Notably, the Port Authority is governed by a split board – 6 members are appointed by the governor of New York, 6 by the governor of New Jersey. The executive director, Patrick Foye, was appointed by Cuomo; his deputy was appointed by Christie (the current deputy is Deborah Gramiccioni; the previous deputy, Bill Baroni, resigned in December over his role in the scandal). Christie had been more aggressive than Cuomo in getting his people appointed to positions at the Port Authority, according to Port Authority historian Jameson Doig. But there is no question that the Port Authority was not under the exclusive control of the Christie gang, and it seems strange that his people were acting like it was.
The departing Heinz Endowments president, Robert Vagt, is doubling down on his oil and gas industry ties and joining Rice Energy, a natural gas production company, as chairman.
Vagt‘s oil and gas ties came under scrutiny last year when we released a report on the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), a group hailed in the press as an unlikely partnership between environmental groups and industry. We exposed CSSD as a greenwash, dominated by oil and gas industry insiders — even on the “environmental” side of the equation. The report highlighted the fact that Vagt, at that point the chair of CSSD, is a board member and major shareholder in gas pipeline company Kinder Morgan. His role at Kinder Morgan went unnoted anywhere in the press, on CSSD’s website, or in his Heinz bio. The conflict of interest and Heinz’s involvement in CSSD more generally appears to have led to turmoil at the foundation and Vagt’s resignation as president.
The New York anti-tax group Unshackle Upstate has made fighting the public financing of elections a major priority. Late last year the group published an opposition white paper timed to coincide with the release of preliminary findings of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption (which advocated for public campaign financing), and during the Governor’s State of the State address Unshackle Upstate tweeted that public financing was “a non-starter” and “a recipe for more fraud and abuse.”
Unshackle Upstate frames its opposition to public campaign finance in the language of fiscal prudence and concern about corruption; however, the group and its constituents represent a deep-pocketed class of business elites who may see the influence their campaign dollars buy diminish in a public finance system. Since 2008, Unshackle Upstate and the organizations that lead it have spent nearly $2 million on donations and other political expenses.
Is the business group’s opposition to public finance less about fiscal responsibility than it is about maintaining elite hegemony over political spending?
New CEOs, same door
By Gin Armstrong • Jan 14, 2014 at 13:28 EST
On Sunday the Washington Post reported on the “new crop” of defense industry CEOs from the last two years, highlighting the industry’s troubled waters and desire for steady hands to brave the sequester. According to American Security Project fellow August Cole, the best strategy for navigating the coming changes would be one of relationship building:
“Running a defense company is as much about being able to relate to the senior military leadership and the political leadership as it is about understanding how you make a supersonic fighter,” said August Cole, an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project.
And new tactics:
The changed times means the executives should be prepared to do things differently than their predecessors, Cole said.
“The worst thing the defense industry could do is keep doing the same things again and again,” he said. “Technology’s moving much faster than it has before. . . . To be relevant in the national security environment, you have to move much faster.”
Cole’s implication that the defense industry is not already well-practiced in maintaining close connections to top decision makers is odd given the well-documented revolving door between government and the defense and intelligence communities. However, in some instances the incoming CEOs’ government connections are more pronounced than those of their predecessors. Perhaps the new strategy is to move these connectors to the helm?
Mayor De Blasio imitates his predecessor by choosing two former Goldman Sachs execs to lead NYC’s economic development efforts.
If you caught the news sometime this fall, you probably know the story of New York City’s changing of the guard. Populist de Blasio replaces billionaire Bloomberg as mayor. Wall St. already misses its buddy Mike. Economic inequality: watch out!
So why is de Blasio surrounding himself with a cast of characters that signal it’s business as usual in City Hall?
Back in December we pointed out that some of the members of de Blasio’s transition team are closely affiliated with REBNY and the Partnership for New York City, two business lobbying groups that enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Mayor Bloomberg. His time in office was called “a wonderful era” by REBNY president Steve Spinola. Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wylde was appointed to the board of the NYC Economic Development Corporation by Bloomberg at the start of his first term. (Interestingly, the EDC by-laws adopted in 2012 also indicate that the board’s chairperson shall be appointed by the mayor in consultation with the Partnership.)
De Blasio continued the trend when he appointed his top development advisors. Alicia Glen left Goldman Sachs after more than a decade to become Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development. She replaces Robert Steel, another former Goldman executive who was also CEO of Wachovia.
Private equity firm The Carlyle Group recently announced that it was bringing on former Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski as a managing director and partner in its buyout group. As well-connected hires go, Carlyle couldn’t do much better than Genachowski; a friend and basketball buddy of Obama since his Harvard Law Review days, he led the Obama campaign’s 2008 internet fundraising strategy and became a campaign bundler. Now Genachowski is free to use his weighty influence to identify and gobble up tech, media, and telecommunications companies with Carlyle’s latest US buyout fund, valued at $13 billion.
This fall, Blank Rome LLP, a Pennsylvania-based law and lobbying firm, held two events titled “Environmental Issues Affecting Midstream & Downstream Oil & Gas Development.” The events, one in Philadelphia and one in Harrisburg, were co-hosted by Hull & Associates, a shale oil and gas project management and consulting firm, and featured a slew of presenters from variety of industry affiliates, including Blank Rome energy chair (and former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary) Michael Krancer; Stephanie Catarino-Wissman, the executive director of the American Petroleum Institute‘s Pennsylvania office; and Chris Tucker, the leader of Energy in Depth, the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s public relations campaign.
Also among the presenters were E Christopher Abruzzo, Krancer’s replacement as DEP Secretary, and Robert F Powelson, the chairman of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission (PUC).
While it is important for industries to be kept abreast of the issues regulators are looking at, the Blank Rome program, which included presentations on how midstream and downstream companies can mitigate public relations fallout from an environmental crisis, is another illustration of the cozy relationship in Pennsylvania between the oil and gas industry and the governmental bodies tasked with overseeing it.
Top ten Eyes on the Ties posts of 2013
By Gin Armstrong • Dec 23, 2013 at 15:53 EST
This year we ramped up our blogging activity to bring you punchier hits of LittleSis research and analysis, covering topics that span energy, defense, finance, policy, and government. Be sure to subscribe to Eyes on the Ties in 2014!
With no further ado, the top 10 Eyes on the Ties posts of 2013:
2013 has been a great year for the Public Accountability Initiative. Our investigations on issues ranging from corrupt greenwashing efforts to on-air war profiteers garnered major media coverage and delivered real impact. We ramped up our blogging activity. We moved into a new office in our home base of Buffalo and added two awesome staff members, one of whom seized control of our twitter account and actually started tweeting. We also made significant improvements to LittleSis, the research wiki that powers all of our nosy investigations, and began working on some exciting upgrades that we plan to roll out in 2014. Edits to the LittleSis database are up 20% from 2012, to 197,229 modifications (two tips of the hat to WileECoyote and seeker, the top LittleSis editors in 2013). Read on below for more highlights from our year.
Here at PAI, we follow the money in our daily work, tracking money flows through tangled networks in order to expose corruption and conflicts of interest. But we also do it in a larger sense: we follow the big money in the economy. Naturally, this has led us to focus our attention on banks, and fracking, and the defense and intelligence apparatus, among other things. With each of our investigations, we aim to challenge power and hold it accountable in a way that creates space for real democracy. By exposing corrupt and cozy deals among cronies, we hope to get the people a better deal.
Read on for more on how we did this in 2013. And if you like what we’re up to, please make a donation to PAI to support our work in 2014. Thank you!
– Kevin Read more…