Black financial executives are mobilizing against progressive Democrats’ demand that President-elect Joe Biden’s administration exclude anyone with corporate ties, as they look to ensure that people of color can secure top jobs in the new government.
The effort, led by trade associations representing black bankers, brokers and investment firms, is arguing that shutting out finance workers would unfairly disqualify minority candidates — and could be especially detrimental at a time when racial income inequality is a problem that Biden has pledged to address. The campaign is focusing on senior White House staff posts, as well as the heads of agencies like the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“All of these leadership positions play a critical role in the development of economic policy in an administration and the execution of goals, strategies and practices that impact all Americans,” the groups wrote in a letter to Biden sent on Wednesday. “Unless you are intentional about leveraging inclusion as a strategy to navigate the intersecting dynamics of race, economy, inequality and power, we will not address these issues with the best minds possible.”
Biden, who’s widely considered a moderate, has yet to announce ethics rules for staffing the administration, though his transition has banned lobbyists, with some exceptions. The letter highlights how the president-elect and his team have to navigate a tricky path on corporate executives while conducting the fullest search possible to form a government they’ve promised will be reflective of the U.S. population.
“President-elect Biden will build a diverse administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and the first Black woman to serve as Vice President-elect,” said Cameron French, a transition spokesman. “As he did during the campaign to his transition, Joe Biden will be intentional in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges.”
The request by the financial groups follows another recent one by the Washington Government Relations Group, a trade association of African American lobbyists. It sent a letter last week to leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, asking for their help advocating against the progressives’ call for barring registered lobbyists from the Biden administration.
A stint in government often helps propel people to high-level private sector jobs. But on the flip side, experience in the corporate world can be beneficial for government work, giving policy makers insight into an industry they are charged with overseeing.
More liberal Democrats, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have taken a hard line against filling economic and regulatory roles with workers from Wall Street and major corporations, contending that such appointees may put the interest of their businesses ahead of the American people.
Warren, however, in comments earlier this week may have given Biden some cover when she pointed out that she had hired people from Wall Street when she set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “The question is: What does your overall team look like?” she said at a New York Times DealBook conference. “It is important to have a team that brings a lot of different perspectives.”
The groups representing minority financial firms and executives make a similar argument. And, they may be difficult to ignore, especially because Biden won the presidency with massive support from African Americans and other minority voters.
Though Biden has yet to announce any of his picks for cabinet posts, he has chosen a number of senior White House staffers. Among them are Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Another African American, former KeyBank NA executive Don Graves, is leading the transition team that will review the Treasury Department.
In the letter signed by the heads of the National Bankers Association, the National Association of Securities Professionals, the Association of African American Financial Advisors and several other groups, the executives note that only white men have served as Treasury chief and director of the National Economic Council.
In addition, they pointed out that there has never been a black leader of the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency or the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
“A review of the people who have served in the top economic policy making positions in our country’s history shows a stunning and complete lack of racial and ethnic diversity,” the letter said.
The letter, which was also signed by civil rights groups that advocate on behalf of Latinx people and African Americans, called on Biden’s team to interview three or more candidates of color for those key roles.
Though still early in the process, Biden’s transition team is considering potential black nominees for several economic jobs, people familiar with the matter have said. Still, only one prominent candidate with direct ties to the financial industry has emerged: retiring TIAA Chief Executive Officer Roger Ferguson, a potential Treasury secretary. Others who may get positions are from academia or the government, including Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Chris Brummer, a Georgetown University law professor.