It’s common for former government officials, including Fed leaders, to make money by giving speeches that share their insights on the economy and policy. However, the disclosure of Yellen’s lucrative speaking fees is awkward because she could soon be Biden’s point person on the economy and finance.
If confirmed as Treasury secretary, Yellen will have enormous sway over everything from taxes and climate to tariffs and government spending. Yellen would also chair a team of US regulators that responds to emerging risks in the financial system.
“This disclosure dovetails with some broader Democratic concerns regarding the revolving door and the access certain financial services firms have to top policymakers,” Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading, said in an email.
Big bank speeches
The fact that the majority of Yellen’s speaking fees were from the financial industry could raise concerns that she is too cozy with Wall Street.
The group called on Yellen to publish “in full” all of her paid speeches — a disclosure that would explain whether she was “merely opining on the markets, or offering lobbying/policy advice.”
Former government officials have been criticized for their post-politics relationships with big banks and corporations.
The Biden transition team downplayed concerns about Yellen’s income from Wall Street and noted that some speeches were moderated or covered by journalists.
“Take a look at her record on enforcement — this is not someone who pulls punches when it comes to bad actors or bad behavior,” a Biden transition official told CNN Business.
“She didn’t hesitate to tell some audience that the rules governing their business should be tougher and more stringent — and it could create problems for the economy otherwise,” the Biden transition official said.
Avoiding conflicts of interest
However, transcripts of Yellen’s speeches to Wall Street banks have not been made public. And the Biden transition official did not immediately provide specific examples of Yellen telling companies that rules may need to be toughened.
Additionally, Yellen plans to resign from the Washington Speakers Bureau, which has represented the former Fed chief in paid speeches.
Confirmation not in doubt
Analysts said the disclosures are unlikely to derail Yellen’s confirmation by the US Senate.
“Yellen will face questions on these speeches during the confirmation process, but it’s difficult to envision this disclosure impacting her odds of becoming Treasury Secretary,” Boltansky said. “The fact is she did absolutely nothing wrong and she will still cruise to confirmation.”
Yellen’s forms ran 21 pages and included her stamp collection, which was estimated to be worth between $15,001 and $50,000.
Greg Valliere, chief US policy strategist at AGF Investments, doubts the speaking fees will prevent Yellen from becoming the first woman to lead the US Treasury Department.
“She has such a reservoir of goodwill on Capitol Hill that she will easily win confirmation,” Valliere said.