Hope and Change ethics for Treasury nominee

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, he promised to change the way Washington did business.  No longer would the Beltway answer to Wall Street, and corporate interests would get the boot.  Members of his administration would get held to higher standards of ethics and be free of lobbying and corporate ties.

How’s that pledge working out?  The Washington Times finds yet another exemption claimed by Obama on his own policies:

President Obama’s nominee for the Treasury Department’s top legal job still can receive almost $3 million in pay over the next three years from one of the nation’s largest financial-services companies under a compensation plan approved by government ethics lawyers.

If confirmed as the department’s next general counsel, George W. Madison would earn a government salary of $153,200 and get an additional $955,000 next year from his previous employer, TIAA-CREF, as a participant in the New York-based company’s “long-term compensation plan,” according to a government ethics filing.

Mr. Madison, who will no longer work for the company where he served as general counsel, will get $1.6 million from TIAA-CREF in 2011 and $333,000 in 2012 under the pay arrangement, government records show.

Mr. Madison’s Treasury appointment is pending. According to the Treasury Department, Mr. Madison has agreed not to work on matters that would “affect the ability or willingness” of TIAA-CREF to pay out the $2,918,000 he is slated to receive over the next three years.

Retirement-planning company TIAA-CREF manages more than $300 billion in retirement and other assets for 3.6 million members, mostly working in the medical, research and academic fields. The company has a big presence in Washington, spending more than $1 million to lobby Congress, the White House, the Treasury Department and other agencies over the past year.

This exemption is especially rich, if you’ll pardon the pun.  This arrangement sounds amazingly similar to one that set Bush administration critics to howling when Dick Cheney took deferred compensation from KBR.  That set off chants of “Halliburton!” for eight years, even though KBR won a much higher percentage of its contracts through competitive bidding than most Pentagon contractors and KBR’s funding of the deferred compensation in a trust unaffected by its business performance.  Cheney, in any case, had no power to allocate contracts or funds.

Madison’s case has serious ethical issues.  Madison’s deferred compensation comes from an entity which stands to benefit from his presence at Treasury.  Their lobbying of Treasury makes that pretty obvious, and Madison as general counsel can certainly influence the decisions made by Treasury regarding pensions, regulation and enforcement in the financial-services industry, and so on.  It makes an appearance of special interest and influence, the very kind of appearance that Obama the candidate criticized for two years before winning the presidency.

Obama set expectations during his campaign that he now finds impossible to meet.  Instead of honestly admitting that he overpromised, he and his staff would rather pretend that the policies remain in place despite most of their top appointments having serious ethical or tax issues.  It’s not just incompetent, it’s completely hypocritical, and only an acquiescent national media allows him to get away with it.