President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, collected more than $7m in speaking fees over the past two years from top financial firms and tech giants including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Google, according to disclosure forms filed as part of her nomination.
Yellen’s was among three financial disclosures turned in by Biden transition officials that were made public on Thursday by the Office of Government Ethics. In a separate filing, Yellen listed firms and banks where she had received speaking fees and said she intended to “seek written authorization” from ethics officials to “participate personally and substantially” in matters involving them.
Yellen was the Federal Reserve chair from 2014 to 2018. Her term was not renewed by President Donald Trump. She took in the speaking fees in 2019 and 2020.
Her selection by Biden to lead the Treasury Department has been cheered by progressive Democrats, who support Yellen’s work as a labour economist who has long prioritised combating economic inequality. Since her nomination was announced, Yellen has pledged to work to fight systemic racism and climate change.
But receiving steep payments from Wall Street bankers and other powerful corporations could become an issue as her nomination works its way through a closely divided Senate. Hillary Clinton faced criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party while running for president in 2016 for having received lucrative speaking fees at Wall Street firms.
A Biden transition spokesperson said on Friday that, since leaving the Fed, Yellen has “spoken at economic conferences, universities and to business groups and financial institutions about her experiences and her views on what we can do as a country to build a stronger economy and increase our competitiveness”. He added that “this is not someone who pulls punches when it comes to bad actors or bad behaviour”.
Also released on Thursday were disclosure forms from Biden’s choice to be secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who detailed his work at a consulting firm he co-founded, WestExec Advisors, LLC. They show that Blinken was paid more than $1.1m and has entered into an agreement, negotiated in October, to sell his equity interest in the firm, where he advised clients including Bank of America and Facebook.
Avril Haines, Biden’s choice to be national intelligence director, disclosed being a consultant at WestExec Advisors and collecting roughly $55,000 in fees between October 2017 and last summer. In a separate letter to ethics officials, Haines promised to recuse herself for one year in issues involving WestExec as well as her other past employers, including Columbia University, Syracuse University and the Brookings Institution think-tank.
Some advocacy groups began warning just after Election Day that Biden, who was a senator from Delaware for 36 years and served as vice president for two terms, could rely too heavily on officials with strong ties to past Democratic administrations. Many of those left public sector posts for jobs in the private sector and are now seeking to return to government, raising concerns about the “revolving door” between policy and corporate and financial influence.
Biden, however, has largely shrugged off such concerns, saying he is not afraid of relying on advisers with deep governmental experience. He has pledged to assemble a cabinet well versed in the workings of government and full of members from across the racial and ideological spectrum who look like the diverse country they will represent.
Biden’s transition team says it expects to announce more cabinet picks next week, in advance of the Inauguration Day on January 20. Among those positions yet to be filled are the president-elect’s selection for labour secretary and attorney general — a choice that could be complicated by federal prosecutors investigating the finances of Biden’s son Hunter.