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Some liberals defend Obama top economic aide candidate Gene Sperling against criticism

January 5, 2011 |  1:44 pm


Sperling2 Some liberals have come to the defense of Treasury official Gene Sperling, saying consulting work he did for Goldman Sachs doesn't erase years of commitment to average Americans and shouldn't harm his candidacy to be President Obama's top economic aide.

Obama is expected to announce his choice on Friday to head the National Economic Council. The post was vacated last week by Lawrence H. Summers after nearly two years as a key member of Obama's economic team.

Summers returned to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, which announced Wednesday that he will lead the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government.

Sperling, who was National Economic Council director for about three years during the Clinton administration, is a leading candidate to replace Summers at the White House. Since 2009, Sperling has served as counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

But Sperling has faced criticism for earning $887,727 from Goldman Sachs in 2008 for providing the firm advice on its charitable giving. Any ties to Goldman and Wall Street are inappropriate for a top Obama economic aide given the financial crisis, say some liberal critics such as Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“His deal with Goldman Sachs doesn’t look good,” Baker said. “You give someone $900,0000 … It’s hard to believe that doesn’t ingratiate themselves to some extent with Sperling.”

The criticism is unfair, said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

"There’s an assumption drawn that because the payment was so large there must have been something more involved than this charity, and that somehow he reflects Goldman’s view of the world, but that's simply inconsistent with his track record before and since," Greenstein said. "The actual track record is of someone who is basically a progressive." . . .

Greenstein said Sperling was a major champion during the Clinton administration of the earned income tax credit, which helps low-income families. Sperling helped lead the fight against attempts by congressional Republicans to scale it back.

Greenstein and Sara Rosen Wartell, executive vice president of the liberal Center for American Progress, said Sperling's work for Goldman Sachs was limited and consistent with his efforts to improve education for women.

Sperling helped Goldman Sachs launch its "10,000 Women" initiative, which aims to spend $100 million over five years to provide business and management education to underserved women around the world.

"I find it really unfair and simplistic to kind of characterize that as Gene being too close to [Wall Street] interests given what he was working on," said Wartell, who worked with Sperling on the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration. Educating women was Sperling's "primary policy focus for a number of years" after leaving the Clinton administration, Wartell added.

Sperling co-wrote a 2004 report on girls' education, was director of the Center on Universal Education at the Council of Foreign Relations, and founded and chaired the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign on Education.

Greenstein touted Sperling as uniquely qualified to replace Summers, having done the job before during a Democratic presidency when Republicans had control of Congress. With Republicans taking over the majority in the House on Wednesday, the ability to work across party lines will be important, Greenstein said.

"It would be hard to find someone who is more experienced in the particular tasks this job entails," Greenstein said.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Gene Sperling testifying before Congress in 2009. Credit: Associated Press.