President Obama has selected former Commerce Secretary and current JPMorgan Chase executive William Daley as his next chief of staff. The Daley selection, which has been hailed by banks, would plant an official emissary from Wall Street into one of the most important jobs in Washington.
The president once told a meeting of bankers that he was "the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks." That apparently wasn't good enough. Picking Daley would send the message that the pitchforks -- normal people -- matter less than the continued flow of campaign donations from the uber-wealthy. Barack Obama raised $39 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in his 2008 bid for president, the most raised from this sector by anyone in one cycle seeking political office in the United States ever.
Even more problematic than the need to corral donors for 2012 is that Daley's presence would allow him to control the time of the president. Daley could choose who the president sees and what information gets to the president. Based on the praise the financial sector has for the Daley selection, it is clear who those people are and what that information would be. In essence, Daley would act as a stovepipe for the interests of Wall Street, as if bankers didn't have enough influence already.
Daley, the son and brother of two extremely famous mayors of Chicago, began his government career in 1993 as a special adviser to President Bill Clinton. Daley had come to the Clinton administration from an earlier career in both the banking sector and in law. After Daley's work as a special adviser the president appointed him to the board of Fannie Mae. In 1997 Daley was appointed the Secretary of Commerce. In 2000 Daley left the administration to work on the Gore campaign.
After the 2000 election debacle Daley moved into the corporate world. Daley briefly worked as vice chairman of Evercore Capital Partners and then took a job as president of the telecommunications giant SBC Communications.
In 2004 Daley took a job with J.P. Morgan as the head of their Midwest division, located in his hometown of Chicago. Daley was brought on not just for his extensive experience, but his extensive ties to officials in Chicago, including his brother the mayor, and in Washington. In 2007 Daley was elevated to serve on J.P. Morgan's operating committee and was put in charge of government affairs and public policy.
At the same time, Daley did side work, including a stint on a Chamber of Commerce committee on financial regulation. The "Commission on the Regulation of Capital Markets in the 21st Century" ultimately became the Chamber's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, which played a major role in opposing the regulation of derivatives that was a focal point of the financial reform bill pushed by the president and congressional leadership.
The question finally isn't just whether the country needs a chief of staff to the president who can speed dial Jamie Dimon, but rather what considerations does Daley make as chief of staff that could affect his prior commitments and friendships and his future prospects. People criticized Rahm Emanuel for being in too close contact with lobbyists and corporate leaders, but Rahm's future considerations always appeared to be in the political realm. (Yes, I'm aware that Rahm was on the board of Freddie Mac, but what Democrat didn't get some plum seat on Fannie or Freddie back then. Fannie and Freddie were like the Woodstock of the nineties, everyone was there.) What is more disconcerting is that Daley's future prospects likely lie back in the world of finance.
The chief of staff position is a burnout position. No chief of staff lasts very long and then they're off into the world again. The country doesn't need someone so close to the very industry that brought us all to the brink involved in the day-to-day decision-making and deal-making that the chief of staff position entails.
If the president is concerned about the influence of lobbyists in his administration he should also be concerned about the influence that people like Daley, who have already used the revolving door once, could have on policy outcomes. Choosing Daley would not be a wise choice if the president wants to keep his promises on reducing influence in government.