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Obama’s Council of Corporate Kingpins: “Prosperity for the American People”?


Obama’s Council of Corporate Kingpins: “Prosperity for the American People”?


This article explores President Obama’s White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, examining the 26 members of the Council, looking at their current and previously-held positions, and assessing whose interests are really being served, and who has the ear of the Obama administration when it comes to economic issues. Much has been written on the chief economic advisers inside the Cabinet who represent banking and corporate interests, such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who was previously the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Instead of re-examining the more widely known conflicts of interest within the administration, this article focuses on the White House council which is specifically tasked with advising on the supposed economic “recovery.” If they have the ear of the President, is it not important to know who pays their salaries?

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, was until recently, Chairman of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Upon leaving, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of the General Electric Company, became the new Chair of the Council. The Advisory Board was re-named the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Until April of 2011, Immelt was also on the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (alongside JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon).

As stated on the White House website:

The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (Jobs Council) was created to provide non-partisan advice to the President on continuing to strengthen the Nation’s economy and ensure the competitiveness of the United States and on ways to create jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for the American people.

The Council will:

Report directly to the President on the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies to promote the growth of the American economy, enhance the skills and education of Americans, maintain a stable and sound financial and banking system, create stable jobs for American workers, and improve the long term prosperity and competitiveness of the American people… [and] provide analysis and information with respect to the operation, regulation, and healthy functioning of the economy and other factors that may contribute to the sustainable growth and competitiveness of American industry and the American labor force.

So, if the Council provides “non-partisan advice” to the Obama administration “to create jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for the American people,” it would perhaps seem important to identify who these people are, as they profess to serve the interests of the wider population. Below, I will examine brief biographies of most of the members of the Council, focusing on the ones that represent corporate interests. However, below these brief outlines, I will undertake a more cohesive examination of the make-up of the Council.

Who is represented on the Council?

A Note on the Data: The information examined was the official biographies on the White House website of the 26 members of the Council, as well as use of the Council on Foreign Relations’ official Membership Roster, and some additional research retrieved from official biographies on other board memberships. The collection of information is related to discovering which organizations and institutions are most highly represented on the Council. To assess this, the results are based upon positions currently and previously held by members of the Council. Thus, if one member had previously worked for a major bank, but is no longer with that bank, it is still included as being represented in the Council. I chose to analyze the information this way for the same reason that one would look at Timothy Geithner’s previous job in order to assess whose interests he speaks for. Having worked at a bank or major corporation in senior positions would have a significant impact upon the advice one gives on economic issues, regardless of their present affiliation with that bank or corporation. Hence, this is a cumulative assessment of the past and present affiliations of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

The Most Highly Represented Organizations on Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness:

1) The Council on Foreign Relations (8 members):

The CFR was founded in 1921, and was primarily funded in its first decades by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and later, the Ford Foundation. It is the premier foreign policy think tank in the United States. David Rockefeller, while Chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan (now JP Morgan Chase) was Chairman of the CFR from 1970-1985, and remains as Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors.

2) The Business Council (6 members)

Founded in 1933, the BC is an organization of corporate executives which (according to its website), “invites leaders in government, politics, academia, science, medicine, technology and other sectors to address the Council and to participate in its discussions.” It was primarily an advisory body to the U.S. Department of Commerce until 1961 when it “decided to broaden its scope” to “be available to serve all areas of government which requested their services.” The Chairman of the Business Council is Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who is on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

2) The Business Roundtable (6 members)

The BRT “is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with nearly $6 trillion in annual revenues,” established in 1972 “on the belief that in a pluralistic society, businesses should play an active and effective role in the formation of public policy.” The Executive Committee of the BRT includes JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Four of the nineteen members of the Executive Committee of the BRT are also members of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

3) Partnership for New York City (5 members)

The Partnership for New York City was formed out of the merger of two organizations: the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the New York City Partnership. As its website states:

Following in the tradition of three generations of Rockefellers who were closely associated with the Chamber, David Rockefeller transformed the organization in 1979. In that year, he founded the New York City Partnership and affiliated it with the Chamber. Although the original Chamber had taken a broad look at what it considered to be “business interests”, it was primarily a business advocacy group. Under Rockefeller’s vision, the new Partnership would allow business leaders to work more directly with government and other civic groups to address broader social and economic problems in a “hands on” way.

4) General Electric (4 members)

One of the most profitable corporations in the world, involved in energy, technology, real estate, aviation, healthcare, transportation, military contracting, oil and gas, power and water, appliances, and media.

4) McKinsey & Company (4 members)

One of the world’s premier global management consulting firms.

5) Google,The Procter & Gamble Company, Harvard University, and the Brookings Institution (3 members each)

The other organizations that are represented by membership on the President’s Council include: The Federal Reserve, Columbia University, The Walt Disney Company, The New America Foundation, Kodak, AT&T, MIT, The Economic Club of New York, American Express Corporation, Time Warner, Xerox Corporation, Amazon, Swiss Re, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Blackstone Group, the Group of Thirty, DuPont, United Technologies, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Citigroup, Dime Bancorp, Hewlett-Packard, the US Chamber of Commerce, Facebook, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, LaSalle Bank, the World Bank, AMR Corporation, General Motors, Dell, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Intel, Starbucks, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In total, ten different financial institutions are represented; three major foreign policy think tanks are represented (the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, all of which have over-lapping leadership, membership, and funding); six corporate interest groups are represented; four major media conglomerates are represented; eight computer technology and internet corporations are represented; eleven universities are represented, most of which are elite universities, with the highest representation for Harvard, Columbia, and MIT; several chemical companies, military contractors, and foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation. For the stated purpose of creating “prosperity for the American people,” there are only two labour organizations represented, the AFL-CIO and UFCW.

So it would seem quite clear that those who have the ear of the President on economic matters do not represent the vast majority of American citizens, who – by and large – do not sit as executives or board members of multinational corporations, global banks, powerful think tanks, major foundations, elite universities, or business interest groups. Do you really trust these people to speak for you, your needs, what a real economic “recovery” means for you?

One must ask, if their aim is to – as their website states – create “prosperity for the American people,” did they only have a very specific and small fraction of “American people” in mind? Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Appendix: Notable Names

The following is a biographical list of selected individuals from the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness:

Ursula M. Burns: Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation; board director with American Express Company.

Steve Case: co-founder, America Online; Chairman and CEO, Revolution, LLC; Chairman, The Case Foundation.

Kenneth I. Chenault: Chairman and CEO, American Express Company; board director of IBM, the Procter & Gamble Company, and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation; on the boards of the Partnership for New York City, The Business Council and the Business Roundtable and serves as Vice Chairman of each of these organizations; member, Council on Foreign Relations.

John Doerr: a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; on the boards of Google and Amazon.com; on the boards of New Schools, TechNet, ONE and the Aspen Institute.

Roger W. Ferguson: President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA-CREF; Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1999 to 2006; Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the New York Economic Club; previously a Trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the New America Foundation; member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Group of Thirty; former Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, former Associate and Partner at McKinsey & Company.

Mark T. Gallogly: Cofounder and Managing Principal of Centerbridge Partners (Centerbridge is an investment firm with over $15 billion of assets under management); previously with the Blackstone Group for 16 years; currently serves on the advisory council of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy group at the Brookings Institution, Columbia Business School board of overseers, the board of directors of the Dana Corporation, is a partner of the Partnership for New York and member of the Economic Club of New York.

Lewis Hay: Chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, Inc.; serves on the board of directors of Capital One and Harris Corporation; a vice chairman of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric companies; a member of the Business Board of Advisors at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, and a member of the Business Roundtable.

Ellen Kullman: Chair and CEO of DuPont; a member of the U.S.-India CEO Forum, the Business Council, and the executive committee of SCI-America; a member of the board of directors of United Technologies Corp; is on the board of trustees of Tufts University and serves on the board of overseers at Tufts University School of Engineering; and previously worked for General Electric.

A.G. Lafley: Former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble; serves on the board of directors of GE and board of trustees of Hamilton College and is chairman of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation; has also served as a director at General Motors Corporation and Dell Inc.

Monica Lozano: Senior Vice President of media conglomerate, Impremedia, LLC.; on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company and Bank of America.

Jim McNerney: Chairman and CEO, the Boeing Company; previously worked at Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Company, and General Electric; former Chairman and CEO of 3M (a $20 billion global technology company); is also a board director of Procter & Gamble, IBM, a member of The Field Museum Board of Trustees in Chicago, a trustee of Northwestern University, and a member of the Northwestern Memorial HealthCare Board; serves on the executive committee of The Business Roundtable; the former chair of The Business Council, the US-China Business Council and the American Society of Corporate Executives.

Richard D. Parsons: Chairman of the board of Citigroup, Inc.; a Senior Advisor at Providence Equity Partners Inc.; former Chairman of the Board and CEO of Time Warner, Inc.; Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dime Bancorp, Inc.; former counsel for Nelson Rockefeller and as a senior White House aide under President Gerald Ford; also a member of the boards of The Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. and Madison Square Garden, Inc., and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is on the board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Antonio M. Perez: Chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Company; previously had a 25-year career at Hewlett-Packard Company, where he was a corporate vice president and a member of the company’s Executive Council; a member of The Business Council and the Business Roundtable; and was a former member of the Board of Directors of Adobe, Freescale and Schering-Plough Corporation.

Penny Pritzker: President and CEO, Pritzker Realty Group; serves on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and a past board member of the Wrigley Company, Marmon Group and LaSalle Bank Corporation; and is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a trustee of Stanford University, a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an advisory board member of Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project.

Brian Roberts: Chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation; is a member of the Business Roundtable, a CEO only organization based in Washington, D.C. and also serves on the Board of Directors for NBCUniversal.

Matthew Rose: Chairman and CEO, BNSF Railway; is a member of the Board of Directors of AMR Corporation, AT&T Inc., the Association of American Railroads, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and is also a member of the Texas Governor’s Business Council, the Business Roundtable, The Business Council, the Board of Trustees of Texas Christian University.

Sheryl Sandberg: Chief Operating Officer, Facebook; previously Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google; previously served as Chief of Staff for the United States Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton; prior to that she was a management consultant with McKinsey & Company and an economist with the World Bank; and she currently serves on the boards of The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, Women for Women International, Center for Global Development and V-Day.

Laura D’Andrea Tyson: Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley; served in the Clinton Administration and was the Chair of The Council of Economic Advisers (1993-1995) and the President’s National Economic Adviser (1995 – 1996); a Senior Advisor at the McKinsey Global Institute, Credit Suisse Research Institute, and The Rock Creek Group; a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and is a member of the MIT Corporation; on the Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution Hamilton Project and is an Advisory Board member of Newman’s Own, Generation Investment Management, and H&Q Asia Pacific; is a chair for the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council, and serves as a member of the Boards of Directors of Eastman Kodak Company, Morgan Stanley, AT&T, Silver Spring Networks, CB Richard Ellis, the Peter G. Peterson Institute of International Economics, and New America Foundation, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Robert Wolf: Chairman for UBS Americas and President for UBS Investment Bank; a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and on the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy and was on the Board of Directors of the Financial Services Roundtable from 2007-2010.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is co-editor of the book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.” His website is http://www.andrewgavinmarshall.com

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