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Disclosures: Transparency vital to evaluating nominees

As disclosure forms roll in for President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees for various cabinet positions, the inevitable questions arise. How much real world work is too much, for those who hope to land a powerful political position?

Biden’s pick for treasury secretary is Janet Yellen, who was chairwoman of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018. She knows a thing or two about the economy. But, because she was not renewed in that post by President Donald Trump, she spent 2019 and 2020 earning her money as a public speaker and consultant. It’s a role many high-ranking political officials take on when they are no longer on the taxpayers’ dime.

Yellen has collected millions in speaking fees from the likes of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Google, according to her own disclosures. That leads to worries about whether all that money might influence her thinking, should she become treasury secretary.

Of course, Yellen is not the only Biden nominee whose disclosures reveal money received from precisely the kinds of corporations and other entities that might want to wield influence later. Asking thorough questions about the information in those disclosures is important.

But unless the Office of Government Ethics finds anything truly worrying in the disclosures — and, in this case, it is more likely that worries would arise from information the ethics officials do NOT see — those responsible for confirming nominees should spend most of their effort on other questions that lead to whether the nominees will be responsible and competent leaders of their agencies and intelligent advisers to Biden.

Money used to influence politicians, whether from legitimate corporations or more secretive groups, is nothing new and is not limited to one political party or the other. The difference in the case of those listed on disclosure forms is that the public is made aware of the transactions.

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