By Pam Martens: March 1, 2013
Each year, millions of Americans who inherit wealth or seek to start investing for the first time, struggle with how to go about finding a competent, honest and experienced financial advisor. Having painstakingly observed for the past two weeks how the U.S. Senate went about hiring Jack Lew to be the top financial advisor to the country as Treasury Secretary, I feel there is now a very simple example millions of Americans can follow in formulating a selection process of who should manage their money: do the exact opposite of those men in Washington.
But simultaneously with that vote to install the country’s financial advisor at Treasury was a no-confidence vote on the Senate floor. Knowing in advance that there was to be eight hours of debate on this nominee and that it was being publicly televised on C-SPAN, the vast majority of Democrats failed to utter one word of explanation to the American people as to why they were casting a positive vote. One got the distinct impression that dozens of Senators were holding their noses and voting to please the President of the United States – the worst possible reasoning at the worst possible time in the U.S. economy.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) did speak at length on the Senate floor on Wednesday concerning his vote on Jack Lew for what he called “one of the most important assignments in our government today.” But after mapping out in excruciating detail every reason to reject this individual, the Senator voted to hire Lew to manage the Nation’s money. (Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spoke at length on Lew’s conflicts and made the rational decision to vote against the nominee.)
This is the no-confidence vote delivered by Senator Orrin Hatch who then later that afternoon cast a yea vote for Lew:
Hatch: “For well over a decade, the Finance Committee has followed a specified procedure when considering Executive Branch nominations. Sadly that procedure was not followed in the case of Mr. Lew. After publicly announcing Mr. Lew’s nomination, the White House waited 26 days before submitting any of his paper work. That was an atypically long delay and in addition slowed the vetting process. It ensured Mr. Lew would not be confirmed in time to prevent a vacancy at the Treasury Department.
“A nomination hearing was scheduled to be held only 12 calendar days after the paperwork was received, even though the nominee had not yet answered all of the questions that were submitted to him. That is simply not the way our process has worked in the past and the undue haste seriously hampered our ability to thoroughly examine Mr. Lew’s background and his qualifications. Once the hearing was completed, as is customary, members of the Finance Committee submitted written time. Anonymous administration sources have decried the very notion that members of the Finance Committee had the audacity to ask hundreds of questions of Mr. Lew as part of their constitutional advice and consent responsibilities.
“Madame President, let me be clear, I will vigorously defend the right of any member of Congress, regardless of party, to ask questions of nominees until they are satisfied that they have obtained all the relevant information – especially in the case of a Treasury Secretary, which is one of the most important assignments in our government today and always has been.
“…Mr. Lew’s responses to many questions have been opaque; he has dissembled often. That being the case, it seemed that the only way to get answers to straight forward questions was to continue to ask for clarifications in an attempt to break through the wall of obfuscation that Mr. Lew had constructed…”
“Unfortunately, many of these concerns will go unaddressed as Mr. Lew seems to be following the standard stonewalling strategy…
“In addition to Mr. Lew’s lack of knowledge about some of the high profile failures of the units he was overseeing [at Citigroup], there are legitimate concerns relating to his compensation while at Citigroup…In late 2008 and early 2009, American taxpayers provided over $45 billion – that’s with a ‘B’ – in direct assistance to Citigroup and backed hundreds of billions of Citigroup assets. At the same time, in January 2009, Mr. Lew reportedly received over $940,000 of compensation, most of which was a bonus for work performed in 2008 when Citi was on the verge of collapse. The bonus came a day before Citi received yet another infusion of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to prop the company up.”
So let’s pause to summarize. Consider this a situation where your elected representative in the United States Senate is hiring a financial advisor for your money; because the tax revenue managed by the U.S. Treasury is your money. It can be used to pay the Nation’s bills or bail out casino banks or pay a $940,000 bonus to Jack Lew. But it’s still your money.
Your elected representative has concluded that the nominee to represent your money at the Nation’s Treasury Department has been “opaque,” has “dissembled,” thrown up a “wall of obfuscation,” and engaged in a “stonewalling strategy.” On top of that, he took $940,000 of taxpayer money as a bonus while exiting Citigroup, an insolvent bank that had just lost 87 percent of its shareholders’ wealth, fired 52,000 workers and was teetering on collapse. And most of the company’s problems occurred in the division of which Lew served as Chief Operating Officer.
But, nonetheless, your elected representative, while admitting his “concerns will go unaddressed,” votes to put Jack Lew in charge of the Nation’s money — the taxpayers’ money.
Of equal concern, Jack Lew will Chair the Financial Stability Oversight Council which will oversee the stability and risks on Wall Street.
Given this backdrop, your own personal financial advisor will need to be more vigilant than ever. If you are thinking of hiring a personal financial advisor for the first time or replacing the one you have, do the opposite of what transpired in the Senate.
Give yourself plenty of time to vet the candidates. Refuse to be rushed. Ask a family member or friend in whom you have complete trust to give you a referral. Ask the candidate to give you the names of three of his long term clients that you can speak with. Check if the firm he or she is with is a member of SIPC. Check for any problems on the person’s record at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Broker Check archives. After all of this, if you have a speck of doubt, move on to the next candidate – the same action that a sane, rational Senate would have taken.