Dispatches from the Creation Wars

For the second time in just his first week in office, the Obama administration has contradicted their own (alleged) rules against allowing lobbyists to work on issues that they previously lobbied on. First it was William Lynn, the former Raytheon lobbyist named to the #2 position in the Defense Department, now it’s the new chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner:

Newly installed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued new rules Tuesday restricting contacts with lobbyists – and then hired one to be his top aide.

Mark Patterson, a former advocate for Goldman Sachs, will serve as chief of staff to Geithner as the Treasury Department revamps the Wall Street bailout program that sent an infusion of cash to his former employer.

Patterson’s appointment marks the second time in President Barack Obama’s first week in office that the administration has had to explain how it’s complying with its own ethics rules as it hires a bevy of Washington insiders for administration jobs.

And here come the excuses:

Treasury spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter lauded Patterson’s “long history of public service in the U.S. Senate, both as a staff director of the Senate Finance Committee and policy director for the Senate leader.

“He brings significant expertise to the job of chief of staff and has agreed to a far-reaching ethics pledge to remove any hint of a conflict of interest,” she added.

According to that pledge, Patterson will be prohibited for the next two years from participating in Treasury decisions related to Goldman Sachs and the specific issues on which he lobbied.

I’ll take transparently silly promises for $1000, Alex. Goldman Sachs is one of the giants of Wall Street. There is virtually nothing the treasury could do outside of ordering lunch that would not have an impact on their profits. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) asks, “Goldman so permeates the markets, how can you separate them out?”

That is precisely the right question and the answer is that you can’t. Goldman Sachs has enormous investments in every sector of the economy. Every single decision that is made that props up virtually any company in any industry is helping Goldman Sachs because it is a virtual certainty that some of their funds include that company’s stock. How many exceptions do you get to make to a rule before it ceases to be a rule anymore?

Politico also reveals that there new DOD deputy William Lynn will continue to benefit financially from anything the Pentagon does that helps his former company, defense contractor Raytheon:

Lynn reported earning $369,615 from Raytheon last year as a senior vice president, He also reported 6,000 shares of restricted company stock worth between $500,000 and $1 million that will vest in February – at a time when he would be on the Pentagon payroll.

Plus, the statement shows that Lynn’s 2008 cash bonus of as much as $250,000 – “pursuant to previously established bonus target formula” – is payable in March.

Additionally, the statement, which pegs most assets only in ranges not precise values, shows Lynn owns “unvested restricted stock” in the company worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

Also, much of Lynn’s retirement is tied up with Raytheon, from a 401k plan worth more than $50,000 to a defined benefit plan that will begin paying him $4,320 a month in 2019.

He says that he’s going to sell his Raytheon stock, but even if he does so that doesn’t mean he won’t benefit from pushing contracts to his former employer. After he leaves office, he will almost certainly rejoin the company, perhaps on the board of directors, and that company will be more valuable and the stock options he receives upon rejoining more valuable if they get more contracts from the DOD in the next four years. That is how it is nearly always done.

We’ve spent the last 8 years complaining, quite rightly, about Dick Cheney getting a huge golden parachute from Haliburton and then joining an administration that gave them billions of dollars in government contracts, many of them of the no-bid variety. We can’t stop now just because a Democrat is in office.