Revolving Door: Career path of former USTR Ron Kirk
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The Obama White House and the Republican leadership in Congress are expected to seek congressional approval the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement in the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections and before the inauguration of a new presidential administration. The environmentally-destructive TPP is hugely unpopular with the American public, and all three presidential candidates, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders oppose the massive deal with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. So, congressional leaders dare not call the TPP for a vote before the election, but hope to push it through before a new administration takes office.
The TPP and similar deals going back to the North American Free Trade Agreement reflect the revolving door between the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Wall Street banks, multinational law firms and corporate lobby shops.
The career path of the current United States Trade Representative Michael Froman is typical. He left his job in the Clinton Treasury Department for a plumb position at Wall Street giant Citigroup and rotated back to the Obama administration to work first on the White House staff and now as the U.S. Trade Representative.
Froman succeeded Ron Kirk as Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative. Before he was appointed USTR, Kirk was a former Dallas Mayor, and a lobbyist in Texas, representing Wall Street giant Merrill Lynch and Fort Worth-based Energy Future Holdings Corporation. Much of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement was negotiated on Ron Kirk’s watch.
As ABC News reported at the time: “As recently as last year, Kirk was a lobbyist for investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co…But here’s the quirk for Kirk: He was a lobbyist in Austin, Texas. Not in Washington, D.C. And that allows Kirk to easily avoid the requirements of President Obama’s’ anti-lobbyist ethics rules, which apply only to federal lobbyists.”
In a similar story of that period in the Dallas Observer, appropriately entitled “Ron Kirk is Not Cheap,” Robert Wilonsky wrote: “Last week, Texans for Public Justice reported that TXU and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and TPG Capital, who are finalizing their deal to buy the energy provider, spent nearly $17 million this year “to convince state officials not to impose significant consumer or environmental restrictions on the giant utility or its pending takeover. [t]he highest-paid lobbyist, at $351,000, was former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.”
Kirk currently serves a lawyer/lobbyist at the giant corporate law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where he leads the international trade practice group.
According to the Dallas Morning News, “The moment Ron Kirk announced in January that he was leaving the Obama administration, he became one of the most sought after international dealmakers in the country.” He ultimately joined “Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a 1,100-lawyer firm with 18 offices around the globe.” Kirk spends much of his time today championing nuclear energy.
Read more about the revolving door at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office here.
Listen to a recording of an interview on the topic of the revolving door with Friends of the Earth’s Bill Waren on Alison Rose Levy’s Connect the Dots radio show: