Wasn’t this supposed to be the start of an era of competence and freedom from conflicts of interest in government?  After appointing lobbyists William Lynn and Mark Patterson to positions that they would have lobbied prior to their appointments, Obama has named a financial-service executive that applied for a bailout to be his deputy counsel on economic affairs:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday named a politically connected top executive of a financial services company that’s seeking federal bailout money to be his chief legal counsel on the economy, a move raising ethical concerns with watchdog organizations and casting a shadow on Obama’s campaign theme of change.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Obama said he appointed Neal Wolin, division president of The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., to become his deputy White House counsel for economic affairs. That makes Wolin the top legal adviser on economic issues.

The Hartford in mid-November purchased a Sanford, Fla., thrift — Federal Trust Bank — a move that allowed it to seek as much as $3.4 billion in Wall Street bailout money. On Nov. 14, it applied to become a thrift holding company entitled to between $1.1 billion and $3.4 billion in funds under the much-maligned Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Patterson also worked for a bailed-out firm, the massively politically connected Goldman Sachs.  Now we get another executive from a politically-connected firm, and not even one that’s successful.  If we had to bail out Goldman Sachs and Hartford, it doesn’t exactly speak well of their economic acumen.  Why do we keep picking people from firms that couldn’t stand on their own?

Obama has started to worry some of the Hopier-and-Changier crowd with his serial violations of his own ethics rules.  This makes the third questionable appointment in nine days, transforming Obama’s violations of at least the spirit of his own ethics rules a pattern and not exceptions.  It’s not just the bailout, either.  Hartford also has lobbied on insurance regulation policy, pushing hard against the federal control that Obama promised in his campaign. CREW and other watchdogs have become restless, and it’s only the second week of the new administration.

Obama’s ethics policy would require Wolin to recuse himself on both the bailout and on insurance regulation, which makes people wonder what exactly Wolin would do as economic counsel.  Clip coupons?  Appointing Wolin, Patterson, and Lynn makes a mockery out of Obama’s vaunted ethics “reforms”, and also of his pledge to find the best and brightest to serve in Washington.