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Monday, July 4, 2011

Corporate Influence in the West Wing: A Daley Occurrence

President Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, was a top executive at JPMorgan Chase, where according to The New York Times, he was paid as much as $5 million a year and supervised the Washington lobbying efforts of the nation’s second-largest bank. Daley also served on the board of directors at Boeing, the giant military contractor, and Abbott Laboratories, the global drug company, which "has billions of dollars at stake in the overhaul of the health care system." Although some argue that the White House needed someone on the inside who has the ear of business, the conflict of interest in having someone so tied to vested commercial interests decide who gets into the Oval Office and determine the President's agenda ought to be troubling. Just one year earlier, a Wall Street reform bill had been passed that sidestepped the question of whether banks too big to fail should be allowed to exist. Also, the enacted health-care reform law both included a mandate and excluded a public option...as per the interests of the heath insurance lobby. Rather than worry that well-financed private interests might already have too much clout in Washington, some people suggest the need for more corporate influence in the West Wing.

In terms of the Obama administration, the appointment of Mr. Daley represents "staying the course." Larry Summers, for example, had been instrumental in the Clinton Administration in keeping derivative securities from being regulated. Like Clinton, Obama is a pro-business Democrat, at least in practice--the charges of socialism notwithstanding. I contend that the fear over socialism is overplayed, while the ease with which corporate executives (such as Hank Paulson--Bush's Treasury Secretary and former CEO of Goldman Sachs--and William Daley) encase themselves in the White House is cause for concern. Yet there appears to be a societal blind spot with respect to some rather obvious ways in which corporations can capture our federal government. For instance, no one suspects a tie between Daley coming on board leading up to the re-election campaign and his corporate ties. It may be that Obama did not press "too big to fail" and the public option more because he knew he would draw on corporate campaign contributes. I suspect that we are blind to this possibility because our values are largely in line with corporate interests.

Whether corporate capture is from design or not, our corporate-friendly societal-orientation provides a bedding of sorts for structural conflicts of interest that must seem strange elsewhere in the world. William Daley is a beneficiary of a friendly American culture that enables looking the other way, or even cheerleading on behalf of greater corporate influence in Washington.


 Eric Lipton, “Business Background Defines Chief of Staff,” The New York Times, January 6, 2011.