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Biden’s team includes top posts linked to corporations and military contractors

Biden Aides’ Ties to Consulting and Investment Firms Pose Ethics Test
Some of the president-elect’s choices for top posts have done work for undisclosed corporate clients and aided a fund that invests in government contractors.
NYT,  By Eric Lipton and Kenneth P. Vogel,  Dec. 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — One firm helps companies navigate global risks and the political and procedural ins and outs of Washington. The other is an investment fund with a particular interest in military contractors.

But the consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, and the investment fund, Pine Island Capital Partners, call themselves strategic partners and have featured an overlapping roster of politically connected officials — including some of the most prominent names on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s team and others under consideration for high-ranking posts.

Now the Biden team’s links to these entities are presenting the incoming administration with its first test of transparency and ethics.

The two firms are examples of how former officials leverage their expertise, connections and access on behalf of corporations and other interests, without in some cases disclosing details about their work, including the names of the clients or what they are paid.

And when those officials cycle back into government positions, as Democrats affiliated with WestExec and Pine Island are now, they bring with them questions about whether they might favor or give special access to the companies they had worked with in the private sector. Those questions do not go away, ethics experts say, just because the officials cut their ties to their firms and clients, as the Biden transition team says its nominees will do.

WestExec’s founders include Antony J. Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice to be his secretary of state, and Michèle A. Flournoy, one of the leading candidates to be his defense secretary. Among others to come out of WestExec are Avril Haines, Mr. Biden’s pick to be director of national intelligence; Christina Killingsworth, who is helping the president-elect organize his White House budget office; Ely Ratner, who is helping organize the Biden transition at the Pentagon; and Jennifer Psaki, an adviser on Mr. Biden’s transition team.

WestExec did not respond when asked for a list of its clients. But according to people familiar with the arrangement, they include Shield AI, a San Diego-based company that makes surveillance drones and signed a contract worth as much as $7.2 million with the Air Force this year to deliver artificial intelligence tools to help drones operate in combat missions.

At the same time, Mr. Blinken and Ms. Flournoy have served as advisers to Pine Island Capital, which this month raised $218 million for a new fund to finance investments in military and aerospace companies, among other targets.

The team recruited by Pine Island Capital Partners — which is led by John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch at the time of its collapse in 2008 during the recession and sale to Bank of America — was chosen based on its members’ “access, network and expertise” to help the company “take advantage of the current and future opportunities present in the aerospace, defense and government services industries,” including artificial intelligence, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in September describing the new fund, Pine Island Acquisition Corporation.

Pine Island Capital has been on something of a buying spree this year, purchasing the weapons system parts manufacturer Precinmac and a company until recently known as Meggitt Training Systems and now known as InVeris, which sells computer-simulated weapons training systems to the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies.

Another person listed as a member of the Pine Island team is Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired Army general who is also under consideration for defense secretary, according to a person familiar with the selection process……..

Mr. Biden’s team has faced pressure from the left and government watchdogs to outline steps to minimize the sort of corporate influence and conflicts of interest that marked President Trump’s tenure from the start.

These groups worry not only that Mr. Biden’s aides could shape government policies in ways that could benefit companies that paid their firms, but also that the firms could become magnets for access seekers in the Biden administration……….. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/28/us/politics/biden-westexec.html?smid=tw-share

December 4, 2020 - Posted by | election USA 2020, politics

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