Today, a large and diverse national coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter to Antonio Weiss, Treasury Department Counselor to the Secretary, requesting that he immediately recuse himself from all activities relating to the Puerto Rico debt crisis. The groups highlighted that upon joining Treasury, Weiss received a golden parachute worth more than $21 million from Lazard Frères, his former employer, an investment bank that has invested and traded extensively in Puerto Rican debt.
The national coalition letter was signed by the following organizations: Rootstrikers, the Center for Popular Democracy, Democracy for America, the Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment, Hedge Clippers, Make the Road Connecticut, Make the Road New York, MoveOn.org Civic Action, New York Communities for Change, Organize Now, Presente.org, the ReFund America Project at the Roosevelt Institute, and the Strong Economy for All Coalition.
It was accompanied by the release of an eye-opening joint report from Hedge Clippers and Rootstrikers, “The Antonio Weiss Files: Vultures, Bribes & Conflicts of Interest in Puerto Rico,” which details the many conflicts of interest created by Weiss’s past employment at Lazard.
“From top Lazard bankers accused of bribing Puerto Rico’s governor for favorable roles in debt deals, to their role in advising vulture Hedge Funds on how to invest in the Island, Lazard is totally intertwined with the Puerto Rico debt crisis – and Antonio Weiss and his golden-parachute millions are totally intertwined with Lazard,” the report reveals.
“Given questionable allegiances, Antonio Weiss is the wrong person to handle Treasury’s response to this crisis. We are calling on Antonio Weiss to recuse himself from all Treasury activity relating to Puerto Rico and the Island’s debt crisis,” the report concludes.
Weiss received a $21,200,000 golden parachute from Lazard upon entering the government – a compensation practice that has become so controversial that all three leading Democratic candidates for president have endorsed the Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s “Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act,” which would make golden parachutes for government service criminally illegal under the bribery statute.
“This type of blatant conflict of interest is exactly why Americans were outraged by Antonio Weiss’s nomination to be Treasury Undersecretary last year, ultimately blocking his appointment,” said Kurt Walters, campaign manager at Rootstrikers. “While he may have snuck into an unconfirmed position at the Treasury Department, Weiss should still do the right thing and recuse himself immediately, allowing someone without his conflicts of interest to manage Treasury’s response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.”
Antonio Weiss’s late 2014 nomination to become undersecretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department – the third highest position in the department – earned widespread criticism. Members of the U.S. Senate and grassroots activists alike expressed serious concerns that his lack of experience in domestic finance, enormous $21 million golden parachute from Lazard, and involvement in controversial deals like the Burger King Worldwide Inc (NYSE:BKW)-Tim Horton’s tax inversion would leave Weiss unsuited to manage critical domestic issues like the implementation of Dodd-Frank. Weiss ultimately withdrew his name from consideration.
The national coalition letter to Weiss says that an “equitable and successful resolution” of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis will require that the team managing Treasury’s response “must not appear to be beholden to the moneyed speculators who seek to profit from the Island’s financially instability.”
“Lazard and other investment banks pushed Puerto Rico’s institutions to take on massive amounts of debt, and now they want the people of Puerto Rico to pick up the bill and guarantee their profits,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org. “Antonio Weiss received a golden parachute from Lazard after helping them target Puerto Rico for predatory lending, and it’s outrageous for him to lead the Treasury’s response to the crisis he helped manufacture. Puerto Rico deserves solutions that prioritize the well-being of its citizens and its economy, not the profit motives of elite investment banks.”
Several of the advocacy groups involved in the national coalition letter to Weiss have launched a petition at WeissMustGo.com urging Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to ensure Antonio Weiss is not involved in the Treasury Department’s response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
Rootstrikers is a new generation of activists taking a stand against the corrupting influence of money in politics and Wall Street’s attempts to rig the game against everyday Americans. We are a project of Demand Progress.
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