Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s picks for some of the top spots in his potential administration are bringing with them a slew of potential ethics issues.
A number of his nominations and appointees are former government officials who have left government to work in the private sector. Two firms specifically are personnel pipelines that Biden has used to staff up: the consulting firm WestExec Advisors and the investment fund Pine Island Capital Partners, according to The New York Times.
As the Times reports:
WestExec’s founders include Antony J. Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice to be his secretary of state, and Michèle A. Flournoy, one of the leading candidates to be his defense secretary. Among others to come out of WestExec are Avril Haines, Mr. Biden’s pick to be director of national intelligence; Christina Killingsworth, who is helping the president-elect organize his White House budget office; Ely Ratner, who is helping organize the Biden transition at the Pentagon; and Jennifer Psaki, an adviser on Mr. Biden’s transition team.
At the same time, Mr. Blinken and Ms. Flournoy have served as advisers to Pine Island Capital, which this month raised $218 million for a new fund to finance investments in military and aerospace companies, among other targets.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said that all members of Biden’s administration with ties to WestExec and Pine Island would sell any ownership stake and file client disclosure forms. Such clients may be protected by non-disclosure agreements with the firms, and it is unclear whether Biden’s nominees and appointees will be required to disclose all former clients.
“Joe Biden has pledged the most ethically rigorous administration in American history, and every cabinet member will abide by strict ethics rules and abide by all disclosure requirements,” Bates said.
A number of firms around Washington and with ties to the incumbent administration or lawmakers in Congress take part in revolving-door politics, hiring on government veterans and releasing them back to the public sector under friendly administrations to build relationships for their private sector clients. Such relationships can also help a firm get the inside track on government contracts.
WestExec advertises itself with a phrase promoted on its website that suggests some level of revolving-door access at play. “Bringing the situation room to the board room,” WestExec says on its website’s homepage. Similarly, the people brought on to Pine Island were picked because of their “access, network and expertise” to secure the company opportunities in sectors including “government services industries,” according to a September filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The web of potential ethics issues with Biden nominees has already begun to trigger blowback in the Senate, which has the power to confirm or reject Biden’s nominees to his administration. Sen. John Cornyn tweeted on Sunday that in the case that a nominee fails to disclose all of their potential conflicts of interest, “the Senate is not obligated to confirm anyone who hides this information.”
Maybe, maybe not. But the Senate is not obligated to confirm anyone who hides this information
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) November 29, 2020
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