Last fall we issued a report on conflicts on interest in the Syria debate, wherein we tracked the defense industry ties of 22 expert commentators and 7 think tanks who commented on military intervention in Syria. With the uptick in expert analysis on how/if/when the US should respond to the situation in Ukraine we will inevitably see many of the same experts weigh in. In fact we already are.
Today Nicholas Burns was quoted in a New York Times article, “Pressure Rising as Obama Works to Rein in Russia,” and described as “a career diplomat” and “under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration”:
“It’s the most important, most difficult foreign-policy test of his presidency,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who became under secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. ”The stakes are very high for the president because he is the NATO leader. There’s no one in Europe who can approach him in power. He’s going to have to lead.”
Nick Burns was an avid commentator during the debates on US intervention in Syria and seems to have carried his disclosure issues into this debate. Burns is a Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, which boasts a robust defense and homeland security practice and has counted Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and United Technologies among its lobbying clients. He is also a director of Entegris, a manufacturing company that provides materials for Aerospace applications, and a board member of the Atlantic Council, which receives financial donations from defense industry heavy-hitters including SAIC, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics.
As the situation in Ukraine advances we expect we’ll be busy reporting more defense industry ties of experts who feel more comfortable pontificating on sensitive national security issues than on disclosing their own interests.
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Last week, Senator Chuck Schumer recused himself from further oversight of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger after we reported that his brother had played a key role in the deal. Schumer had initially called the merger “a good deal for New York.” His office later claimed that the Senator had not known that his brother was involved.
Schumer’s recusal raises an important question: as a powerful Senator, a member of the antitrust subcommittee, and the brother of a top M&A attorney, is this the first time he recused himself from oversight of a merger deal? His brother has been a key dealmaker on many mergers which required antitrust approval, and several have triggered regulatory action – in the US and abroad. Schumer’s office has not responded to multiple requests for information about past recusals. A Senate Judiciary Committee official turned up no past recusals in a review, but suggested that Schumer’s office would be a better source.
In any case, Robert Schumer did not put together the merger that really caught our eye – his wife did. Pamela Seymon, the Senator’s sister-in-law, was Ticketmaster’s lead outside counsel on its 2009 merger with Live Nation, a $2.5 billion deal which drew the ire of consumer groups, musicians, and lawmakers. Initially, Schumer opposed the merger. Then he seemed to have a change of heart, and began lauding Ticketmaster for collaborating with him on legislation targeting the ticket resale market. On the antitrust implications of the deal, he went silent.
Today Grist released an article on the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) extensive ties to Walmart and the Walton family. $66 million ties to be exact. According to the article these high-dollar contributions from the Walton Family Foundation bought Walmart some serious green cred as EDF, a prominent environmental group with a names that suggests a strong commitment to the environment, promoted the company’s sustainability campaign in press releases and articles and backed the company’s claims about its renewable energy efforts. From Grist:
A recent Fast Company article touting Walmart’s impact on renewable power, for example, relied on just three sources: Walmart, a company contracting with Walmart, and EDF. Perhaps not surprisingly, the article is riddled with half-truths and one critical factual error. It says that Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined by 20 percent since 2005, when in fact they have risen by 14 percent, according to the company’s own disclosures.
EDF not only failed to disclose their financial ties to the Waltons but misled journalists and the public by continually claiming that they do not receive financial support from Walmart or other corporate entities. They are technically correct. The money comes from the Walton Family Foundation, which is directed by the Waltons, the children and grandchildren of Sam Walton (Founder of Walmart), who sit on Walmart’s board, hold the chairmanship of Walmart’s board, and own over half of Walmart’s stock. Spin on, EDF.
It is quickly becoming clear that JPMorgan’s tentative $13 billion settlement with the Department of Justice is not the massive, overly-punitive sanction that some press reports have made it out to be. The weaknesses in the deal may be explained in part by the fact that in arranging the settlement, JPMorgan was negotiating through the revolving door.
Dudley’s daybook goes dark
By Kevin Connor • Oct 15, 2013 at 15:05 EST
In the wake of a report from ProPublica that the New York Fed fired a senior bank examiner for challenging inadequacies in Goldman Sachs’ management of conflict of interests, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the daily schedules of the New York Fed’s president, William Dudley, a Goldman alum.
Dudley spent two decades at Goldman Sachs before joining the New York Fed, so he was steeped in the ways of the bank, which apparently include a systematic, almost absurd disregard for conflict of interest monitoring and management. According to the ProPublica article, Goldman has no firm-wide conflict of interest policy. One Goldman unit instructs employees not to write down their conflicts. The bank’s conflict of interest unit is the same as its business selection unit, a bizarre structure that almost seems designed to encourage conflicts. The head of this unit does not see it as serving any compliance function. Carmen Segarra, the bank examiner who was fired, suggested that Goldman executives could not even demonstrate a basic understanding of what a conflict of interest is.
Was the New York Federal Reserve conflict of interest training enough to help Dudley overcome years of learning the Goldman way? Had he really avoided any awareness or involvement in the Segarra situation? These are hard questions to answer, and answers are unlikely to surface in any documents (the Goldman way: don’t write it down). A New York Fed spokesperson told ProPublica that Dudley was not involved in firing Segarra. But Dudley’s calendar might reveal that he had had meetings with Goldman executives during the whole saga, which would be interesting and would probably look bad for Dudley (though it would not be proof of his involvement).
Ecology & Environment (E & E), the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) contractor whose membership in the lobbying group Independent Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) of New York set off alarm bells, “clarified” its relationship with the organization last week.
In a letter released April 24, E & E asserted that it was never a member of IOGA, though it had previously paid an employee’s membership fees “in order to attend IOGANY’s Conferences and receive its newsletter to be kept apprised of new technical developments in the industry and develop industry contacts.” The environmental consultant castigated IOGA for not obtaining authorization to name Ecology & Environment in its letter to Andrew Cuomo pushing to move forward with fracking in New York State. E & E also declared that it had directed its employee to terminate his IOGA membership.
According to the April 24 letter, “E & E’s nationwide policy has been to not take any position on fracking and only provide objective environmental consulting;” however, the company has a financial interest in New York’s approving the practice evinced in corporate financial reports and past work for oil and gas companies. E & E has also been criticized for its overly optimistic prediction of fracking’s economic effects written on contract for the DEC and further has ties to a now-defunct fracking research institute at the University at Buffalo that incorrectly reported that the incidence of major environmental citations had declined in Pennsylvania.
When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) announced last January that he would not seek reelection, some media outlets declared that Dodd’s retirement would actually increase the chances that robust financial regulatory reform would be enacted (for example, see articles by The Washington Post and BusinessWeek). Such analyses demonstrate a near total ignorance of the processes of lobbying and campaign financing that dominate Congress. In reality, Dodd’s announcement likely signaled that the aggressive reform of the finance industry widely called for at the height of the crisis will not become law; at least not while Dodd remains Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
The notion that the decision to retire “freed” Dodd from political pressure, allowing him to concentrate on drafting legislation that would become his legacy, greatly underestimates the strength of the ties between Wall Street and Senators like Dodd. During his many years in the Senate, Dodd cultivated his ties to Wall Street and the industry’s K Street lobbyists to the extent that he essentially has two constituencies: the citizens of Connecticut, and the finance industry. Having freed himself from accountability to the former, he can now focus on serving the latter.
In a blog post yesterday, Paul Krugman tells his readers that they shouldn’t look at a Rasmussen poll on healthcare reform in Massachusetts because “it’s Rasmussen.” He points to a poll that he deems more accurate and trustworthy, by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston Globe. The poll shows that healthcare reform in Massachusetts is actually fairly popular (Krugman supports Massachusetts-style healthcare reform).
But Krugman’s preferred poll is undermined by a significant conflict of interest: it was co-directed by a health insurance company board member, Robert Blendon. Blendon, a Harvard public health professor, has been on the board of Assurant since 1993, earns about $150,000 a year in this role, and is heavily invested in the insurance company.
The apparent conflict of interest was not disclosed by the Harvard School of Public Health or the Globe, so it’s not Krugman’s fault for not noticing.
Back in July, the White House announced the creation of a Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. That’s a lot of fancy words for a commission with a not-so-simple task: to get to the bottom of what caused last year’s financial crisis. The commission is charged with creating a report, which they will submit to Congress in December 2010. They met for the first time last month and like most federal commissions, it’s a motley crew. I spent yesterday updating the profiles of all 10 members. Not surprisingly, many of the commission’s members have strong Wall Street ties, both as employees of or lawyers representing the interests of the very financial institutions they’re charged with investigating.
The commission is comprised of six Democrats, appointed by the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, and four Republicans, appointed by the House and Senate Minority Leaders. The chair is Phil Angelides, a former candidate for governor of California and green real estate guru. It should be noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used two of his three picks to nominate prominent businesspeople from his home state of Nevada: Byron Georgiou, a Las Vegas-based lawyer and Heather Murren, a former managing director at Merrill Lynch who also happens to be married to the CEO of MGM Mirage in Las Vegas. (Between the three of them, they’ve donated $20,000 to Reid since 2001.)
Story gets it wrong on Summers
By Kevin Connor • Apr 06, 2009 at 15:32 EST
Following on Saturday’s weather balloon detailing the Wall Street pay of Larry Summers, today the Times ran a piece on Summers’s work at the hedge fund DE Shaw. Replete with color from inside sources and spare in its critical content, the article is a striking example of journalistic capture; after discussing Summers’ ludicrous compensation ($5.2 million for a year in which he worked one day a week), the piece follows the lead of its sources in functioning to allay concerns about potential conflicts of interest that Summers faces as the chief architect of Obama’s economic policies.
Ironically, given Summers’ infamous remarks on women and science, the article was written by Louise Story, the same journalist who once “reported” that more women with Ivy League degrees were choosing to become stay-at-home moms. Jack Shafer of Slate immediately called that one out as a “bogus trend story,” pointing to its reliance on nebulous “weasel words,” and the piece subsequently became a favorite punching bag of media critics.