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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Cross Hall of the White House April 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Cross Hall of the White House April 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images)

Revolving Door Watchdog Gives Biden White House 'B-' on Corporate Capture in First 100 Days

"Allies of Big Tech, Wall Street, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry have secured jobs in various corners of the executive branch."

Jessica Corbett

Ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's 100th day in office, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog project issued a report card on Wednesday giving his administration a "B-" grade for its "performance at resisting corporate capture."

"It is vital that the Biden administration redouble its efforts to prevent undue influence by powerful corporate interests, especially as these industries push for policy at odds with the clear public interest."
—RDP

"Although the bar is low, Biden has proven to be the least captured and most public-oriented president of any of our lifetimes," says the report (pdf) from the Revolving Door Project (RDP). "Certainly compared to the Trump administration, which was the most corrupt in American history, Biden has fared incalculably better at limiting corporate influence over governance."

RDP, a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), credits progressives for pressuring Biden to pick people who will serve in the public interest.

"That said, Biden's administration thus far is certainly not spotless," the report notes. "Allies of Big Tech, Wall Street, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry have secured jobs in various corners of the executive branch—typically not as high-profile heads of agencies, as they had been under past presidents, but in advisory or sub-appointee positions."

RDP explains that "because Biden has inherited so many interlinking crises of public health, economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change, the existential stakes, and crucially short window of time, to act on each of these means that the shortcomings of his administration—fewer though they are, compared to recent past presidents—carry more weight."

Given current conditions, the project adds, "it is vital that the Biden administration redouble its efforts to prevent undue influence by powerful corporate interests, especially as these industries push for policy at odds with the clear public interest."

While Biden's overall grade was a B-, RDP also gave the White House varied grades for influence by corporate actors across several industries and relationships with public interest actors.

Biden earned a B/B+ on Wall Street and praise for "nominating independent voices like Rohit Chopra and Gary Gensler to lead key financial regulatory agencies." However, RDP criticizes making Brian Deese, formerly of asset manager BlackRock, director of the National Economic Council (NEC); Climate Envoy John Kerry considering private equity mogul Mark Gallogly as an aide; and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's "dangerous hesitance to fully regulate and scrutinize BlackRock and banks."

"Progressives now always have a seat at the table and are a constituency that genuinely has to be respected and at least heard out."
—RDP

Biden also got Bs on fossil fuels and Big Tech. RDP calls Interior Secretary Deb Haaland possibly the administration's "brightest spot" and says Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan "has also performed admirably so far," though expresses concerns about John Morton serving as the Treasury Department's climate czar, the uncertainty over Gallogly, and the possibility of "notorious petro-diplomat" Amos Hochstein negotiating a Germany-Russia oil pipeline.

The report welcomes the selection of Lina Khan for the Federal Trade Commission and Tim Wu's appointment to the NEC to work on technology and competition policy. The project is critical of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who has a background in venture capital; White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, whose brother is an Amazon lobbyist; Amazon shareholder and corporate fixer Jamie Gorelick's relationship with Attorney General Merrick Garland; and some federal vacancies.

On Big Pharma, Biden earned an "inconclusive" grade, with RDP calling his appointment of Xavier Becerra as health and human services secretary "a clear win for opponents of America's exploitative and rent-seeking pharmaceutical industry," while reiterating concerns about "Sackler ally" Raimondo. The project vows to closely monitor upcoming picks for people advising Biden on the intellectual property issues impacting coronavirus vaccine access in the Global South. 

The worst grade, a D-, was for the military-industrial complex.

"The announced withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2021, if actually executed, would be a genuine achievement, and one which the defense industry is already vociferously opposing (the retention of U.S. civilian contractors, remote bombing campaigns, and 'off-the-books' intelligence officials in the country notwithstanding)," the report says. "Despite not appointing the ultra-hawkish Michéle Flournoy as defense secretary, Biden's pick of Lloyd Austin—a former Raytheon board member—has done little to challenge the military-industrial complex when it comes to staffing the administration."

Biden got a D for "industry influence." The report explains:

When the Biden team trumpeted an early ban on lobbyists serving in the administration, they were exploiting a common misconception of how Washington's influence industry works: Many of corporate America's most powerful political hatchet-men never register as lobbyists, instead either taking roles as "consultants" for high-powered industries, or litigating on behalf of corporations from white-shoe legal firms. These consultants and "Big Law" lawyers may not engage in the narrow, legal definition of lobbying (telling a legislator or regulator to vote "yes" or "no" on a specific bill or regulation), but they do engage in the activities that the public disdains about K Street: using personal connections, corporate cash, and political stagecraft to nudge policy in directions opposed to the public interest.

As for the administration's "affection for public interest-minded stakeholders," RDP gave Biden a B+ for labor, a B for civil rights, and a B- for the "progressive movement."

"To hear mainstream pundits tell it, the broadly defined progressive movement—encompassing environmentalists, consumer groups, racial and economic justice activists, and more—has found their next great hero in Biden, on par with César Chávez, whose bust the president keeps behind his desk," the report says. "This is not really the case."

However, the report adds, "progressives now always have a seat at the table and are a constituency that genuinely has to be respected and at least heard out. After so many years in the political wilderness, and facing the high stakes of so many interlinking crises, progressives are not about to waste this newfound opportunity."

In addition to releasing the report, RDP joined Demand Progress Education Fund as well as Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) for a Wednesday event on Biden's first 100 days.

RDP executive director Jeff Hauser noted that Garland "is not reversing Trump-era litigation positions quickly and that very much includes on the environment, but also includes on issues of immigration, on higher ed, just across the executive branch we're seeing that Garland is running a very Big Law, corporate-friendly Justice Department."

However, David Segal, executive director at Demand Progress Education Fund, said that "Jeff and I titled our recent Democracy Journal piece 'Building Back Better (Than Expected),' and I think that sums up our thinking on personnel and policy so far," adding that the administration has "generally exceeded our expectations."


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