Monday, March 4, 2013

Walmart in the White House - Sylvia Mathews Burwell

President Obama will nominate Sylvia Mathews-Burwell, the head of the Wal-Mart Foundation, to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) --- the largest office within the Executive Office --- and will lead the White House’s fiscal policy.

Six degrees of separation: Before public office, Ms. Mathew's (Mrs. Burwell's?) first job out of college was with McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that is one of the leading "Big Three" consulting services to the Fortune 500 set, along with Bain & Company and The Boston Consulting Group --- Mitt Romney' previous firms. McKinsey & Company had shared the same address as MF Global, former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's company when he was also an economic adviser and fundraiser for Obama. Chelsea Clinton had also joined McKinsey & Company in 2003.

Later in the 1990s, Sylvia Mathews- Burwell served as a top aide to the Treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin, who in 2007 had served as chairman of Citigroup before resigning from the company on January 9, 2009. Rubin received more than $126 million in cash and stock during his short tenure at Citigroup when the bank was bailed out by the U.S. Treasury.

Sylvia Mathews- Burwell also served as deputy director of OMB during the Clinton administration, working with just-confirmed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, which was just prior to Bill Clinton signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to deregulate the banks that helped perpetuate the financial crisis leading up to the bank bailouts.

Short Bio: Sylvia Mathews-Burwell received a bachelor’s degree in government, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1987 and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

She began her career while still in college, serving as an intern for West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, as governor's aide to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, and working on the Dukakis/Bentsen and the Clinton/Gore campaigns.

After the 1990s Sylvia Mathews-Burwell has worked in the nonprofit world since leaving politics, spending much of the 2000s at the Gates Foundation, the $36 billion fund that finances global health and poverty-eradication programs. While living in the Seattle, Washington area she met and married attorney Stephen Burwell in February 2007 (full story).

In late 2011 Burwell was picked to lead the Walmart Foundation. That year Walmart and the Walmart Foundation gave $958.9 million in cash and in-kind contributions around the world. This includes $872.7 million in cash and in-kind gifts in the United States and $86.2 million in cash and in-kind gifts in international markets. In addition, Walmart associates volunteered 1 million hours that resulted in more than $13 million in grants to local nonprofits.

Just as Sam's Club and Wal-Mart, the operations of the Walmart Foundation is independent of the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic endeavor founded by the heirs to Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s fortune --- but as you'd expect from any corporate charity, it's not unrelated to Wal-Mart's larger public relations efforts

In 2010 the more ideological Walton Family Foundation, made grants and program-related investments totaling more than $1.49 billion. Wal-Mart has pledged $2 billion from 2010 to 2015, rather than giving their employees full-time work, healthcare coverage and better wages.

The National Economic Counsel's deputy director Jason Furman made the argument that Wal-Mart lowers prices sufficiently to almost double poor peoples’ effective income, and is a net positive for the worst-off. An exchange between Furman and Wal-Mart critic Barbara Ehrenreich offered a good introduction to the debate.

There have been allegations that the company has used the Walmart Foundation to further Wal-Mart’s business interests. In an article for The Nation it was alleged that the foundation donated to the NAACP and to the Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz to sway them to stop opposing the creation of a Wal-Mart store in Brooklyn. The incident predates Burwell’s appointment to the foundation, and Wal-Mart claims its charitable giving is unrelated to public policy considerations.

And according to Slate, Burwell’s ideological reputation is similar to that of Jack Lew and Gene Sperling; and she is described as "a liberal who believes strongly in trying to secure funding for programs that help poor people" all over the world.

But as Slate points out, friendliness to the Wal-Mart worldview would not be a new thing for the Obama administration --- as was seen when Jason Furman, deputy at the National Economic Council, spoke with Wal-Mart critic Barbara Ehrenreich about the "virtues" of Wal-Mart in an interview with Slate several years ago.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell would take over for Jacob Joseph "Jack" Lew, now the Treasury Secretary, who left the budget post in early 2012 to become the White House chief of staff.

Besides MetLife, she is currently a Member of the University of Washington Medicine Board, the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Aspen Strategy Group, the Nike Foundation Advisory Group, and is a Governing Council Member of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

* Also published at the Daily Kos

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