Mar 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Top Biden aides cashed in on Wall Street after Obama service

Photo illustration of Brian Deese and Jonathan Finer sandwiched between U.S. pennies
Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photos: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two of President Biden's top economic and foreign policy advisers made hefty Wall Street salaries during the Trump administration after working for President Obama, new financial disclosure forms show.

The details: Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, was paid $2.3 million in salary last year to serve as BlackRock's head of sustainable investing. Deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer was paid nearly $730,000 as a senior vice president of private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

  • Deese also appeared to earn another $2.4 million from his vested restricted shares in BlackRock. He had served as one of Obama's senior advisers and helped negotiate the 2015 Paris climate accord.
  • Finer received another $430,000 from Warburg in carried interest — the profits earned by managers of venture capital, hedge and private equity funds. He had served previously as State Department chief of staff and director of policy planning.

They were not alone in finding riches in the private sector during Donald Trump's presidency.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Obama’s former White House communications director, made nearly $580,000 through her private consulting group.

  • She also received a communications consulting fee exceeding $5,000 from Jeff Zients, currently Biden's counselor and COVID-19 response coordinator, and another from Lyft.

Susan Rice, who served as Obama's national security adviser and now is director of the Domestic Policy Council, made over $305,000 from exercising Netflix stock options last August. She was appointed to Netflix’s board of directors in 2018.

  • She also received from $100,000 to $1 million in dividends from stocks in Enbridge, a Canadian energy company building an oil pipeline in northern Minnesota that opponents want the Biden administration to stop.
  • The figures are reported in broad ranges.

Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay under Obama and now first lady Jill Biden's chief of staff, took in nearly $1.5 million through last December as a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn.

Other Biden aides joined them in taking substantial pay cuts to return to government service.

  • White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain made just over $1.8 million as executive vice president of D.C.-based venture capital firm Revolution.
  • Deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed made over $450,000 as co-founder of Civic, a D.C.-based think tank.
  • Zients made a $1.6 million salary — plus a bonus — as CEO of the Wall Street holding company Cranemere. As a member of Facebook's board, he also made $333,000 from restricted stock units still vesting during the reporting period, plus over $50,000 in director fees.
  • Stuart Delery, Biden's deputy counsel, made $3.7 million through January as a partner at law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Some of the people who helped the president win the 2020 race also gave up hefty compensation packages to serve in the federal government.

  • Biden senior adviser Mike Donilon, who served as counselor to Biden during the Obama administration, made over $4.3 million last year as a managing member of the consulting firm MCD Strategies.
  • The firm's clients included Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Convention Committee.
  • Deputy chief of staff Jen O'Malley Dillon also received a severance and deferred compensation package from the firm Precision Strategies — which she co-founded — that totaled about $425,000.

The big picture: Although several of Biden's closest advisers made millions through forging new ties to corporate interests after leaving Obama's White House, their wealth pales in comparison to the net worth of many super-wealthy Trump confidantes.

  • Gary Cohn held stock and cash payments valued at about $300 million as president of Goldman Sachs before becoming Trump's former White House economic adviser.
  • Former Trump administration chief strategist Steve Bannon reported up to $13 million in assets in 2017, mostly in real estate.

What they're saying: The White House said in a statement: "These White House officials are experienced government leaders whose past private sector experience is part of a broad and diverse skill set they bring to government service."

  • "They have returned to government because of their deep commitment to public service, their desire to help bring our nation out of this time of crisis, and their strong belief that government can work for the American people."
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