WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Several of President Joe Biden’s nominees to head key U.S. agencies are selling stock holdings and pledging to seek ethics waivers if they have to oversee matters in which they have had personal interests, according to new filings with the Office of Government Ethics.
Biden has asked federal employees to sign stepped-up ethics pledges, and said no family members will work in the White House. Multiple conflicts of interest emerged in the previous administration of Donald Trump.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week obtained a waiver from Treasury ethics lawyers before gathering top financial regulators to study price volatility in GameStop Corp (NYSE:GME) and other stocks. Yellen had received $700,000 in speaking fees from Citadel LLC, a hedge fund at the center of the retail stock frenzy and had pledged https://extapps2.oge.gov/201/Presiden.nsf/PAS+Index/18A4D129DD5675888525864F0081071C/$FILE/Yellen,%20Janet%20L.%20final%20EA.pdf to seek permission to deal with matters directly involving the company.
GARY GENSLER, SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION NOMINEE
Biden’s nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may seek an ethics waiver to participate in cryptocurrency matters if they affect his royalty payments from an online course he created on the subject at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Gensler, who has advocated for stronger regulation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies pledged in his ethics letter https://extapps2.oge.gov/201/Presiden.nsf/PAS+Index/189962C0F69D8B18852586740032EC79/$FILE/Gensler,%20Gary%20%20finalEA.pdf to resign from an MIT economics professorship but will continue to receive royalties associated with his ownership of intellectual property in the MIT Media Lab Cryptocurrency Online Course.
Gensler said he “will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on any royalty and/or other rights resulting from my intellectual property interest unless I first obtain a written waiver.”
The $2,600 MIT Media Lab online course https://www.getsmarter.com/products/mit-media-lab-cryptocurrency-online-short-course advertises that it helps participants understand crypto currencies, including bitcoin, ethereum and the MIT-developed Vault. The course is “designed for anyone seeking a working knowledge of the latest cryptocurrency developments and the skills to assess the viability of crypto projects.”
Bitcoin surged 16% on Monday after billionaire Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) revealed it had bought $1.5 billion of the cryptocurrency and would soon accept it as a form of payment for cars.
Gensler also pledged to resign from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York FinTech Advisory Group and a number of family investment trusts.
SAMANTHA POWER, USAID ADMINISTRATOR NOMINEE
Biden’s choice to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said in disclosures that she would take a two-year unpaid leave of absence from her position as a professor at Harvard University, where she earned $470,000 in salary and research stipends.
She pledged in her ethics letter https://extapps2.oge.gov/201/Presiden.nsf/PAS+Index/06F037D03C4E27FD852586750032EAC3/$FILE/Power,%20Samantha%20%20finalEA.pdf not to personally or substantially participate in matters that may have direct and predictable effects on Harvard’s financial interests without a written waiver. She also pledged to seek a waiver on matters involving parties including or represented by Harvard, for as long as her husband, Professor Cass Sunstein, is employed by the university.
Power also said she would divest her interests in drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) Co, no later than 90 days after she is confirmed. In a separate financial disclosure https://extapps2.oge.gov/201/Presiden.nsf/PAS+Index/EE0AAA787C47686D852586750032E8BB/$FILE/Power,%20Samantha%20%20final278.pdf she said these shares were valued at between $15,001 and $50,000.
Power also disclosed several paid speaking engagements, including one for UBS last year where she earned $56,000.
VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE
Vivek Murthy, tapped to reprise his role as surgeon general in the later years of the Obama administration, pledged to resign his position with medical device companies SVN Med LLC and L&N Baby, The Behavioral Health Group, media agency Attention, and various boards, including the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
He agreed in his ethics letter https://extapps2.oge.gov/201/Presiden.nsf/PAS+Index/333BFF4612049174852586730032EE13/$FILE/Murthy,%20Vivek%20%20finalEA.pdf to not personally participate in matters involving these entities without first seeking prior authorization from Department of Health and Human Services ethics attorneys.
In a separate financial disclosure, Murthy said he was paid more than $1.6 million in consulting fees from Netflix Inc (NASDAQ:NFLX), Airbnb Inc, Carnival (NYSE:CUK) Corp and Estee Lauder Companies Inc (NYSE:EL). He also received stock from Airbnb.
Murthy said in his ethics letter that he would sell the Airbnb shares within 90 days of his confirmation, as well as his shares in companies including Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), Broadcom (NASDAQ:AVGO) Inc, Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) Co, Costco (NASDAQ:COST), CVS Health (NYSE:CVS), Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS), Honeywell International Inc (NYSE:HON), Marvell (NASDAQ:MRVL) Technology Group Ltd, Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT), Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE), NortonLifeLock (NASDAQ:NLOK) Inc, Papa Inc., Salesforce.com Inc (NYSE:CRM), Starbucks Corp (NASDAQ:SBUX), United Parcel Service Inc (NYSE:UPS), and Verizon Communications Inc (NYSE:VZ).