Obama’s Former Budget Ace Fights to Hide His Finances

Peter Orszag, slammed when he took a top job on Wall Street, is working furiously to keep his finances from the public eye.

Former OMB director Peter Orszag
National Journal
James Oliphant
Feb. 26, 2014, 4:57 p.m.

Peter Or­sz­ag, the pres­id­ent’s former budget dir­ect­or, cashed out in a big way when he ditched gov­ern­ment ser­vice for a plum job at Cit­ig­roup. But he doesn’t want the world to know how big.

Or­sz­ag is bat­tling a host of me­dia or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, NPR, and Politico, over ac­cess to fin­an­cial re­cords that will be used as ex­hib­its in his up­com­ing child-sup­port tri­al in D.C. Su­per­i­or Court.

Typ­ic­ally, doc­u­ments in a civil-court pro­ceed­ing are ac­cess­ible to the pub­lic, but Or­sz­ag suc­ceeded last year in quietly con­vin­cing a judge to seal fin­an­cial re­cords sub­mit­ted in the case, in­clud­ing the salary he makes as a Cit­ig­roup vice pres­id­ent, from pub­lic view. In that re­quest, Or­sz­ag wor­ried that dis­clos­ure of his in­come might harm his ca­reer and “dam­age any even­tu­al re­turn to Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment ser­vice or oth­er pub­lic of­fice.”

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Or­sz­ag be­lieves his ex-wife, Camer­on Kennedy, will use the threat of pub­lic dis­clos­ure of his fin­an­cials at tri­al as lever­age to pub­licly em­bar­rass him or per­suade him to settle. He also seeks to keep in­form­a­tion per­tain­ing to his cur­rent wife, ABC News cor­res­pond­ent Bi­anna Go­lo­dryga — in­clud­ing her in­come — from be­ing made pub­lic.

The cur­rent dis­pute with Kennedy is over the amount of child sup­port Or­sz­ag owes in the wake of his up­grade to Wall Street.

The me­dia ad­vocacy group Re­port­ers’ Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press, along with nearly 10 ma­jor me­dia com­pan­ies, last month in­ter­vened in Or­sz­ag’s case, ask­ing the court to un­seal the fin­an­cial doc­u­ments as they are used at tri­al. “The pub­lic has a le­git­im­ate in­terest in learn­ing about how its polit­ic­al class ob­tains its wealth and how the ‘re­volving door’ between the pub­lic and private sec­tors op­er­ates and con­trib­utes to that wealth,” the com­mit­tee ar­gued in its fil­ing.

In es­sence, the com­mit­tee said, Or­sz­ag is de­mand­ing a tri­al out of the pub­lic eye. His fears about fu­ture harm to his ca­reer and im­age aren’t enough “to over­come the pre­sump­tion of open­ness,” it said.

Or­sz­ag and his at­tor­neys re­spon­ded by ac­cus­ing the me­dia of be­ing in league with Kennedy to ob­tain and pub­li­cize his fin­an­cials. They re­cently sent sub­poen­as seek­ing all com­mu­nic­a­tions between Kennedy and the me­dia en­tit­ies, which the Re­port­ers’ Com­mit­tee termed “an un­seemly at­tack” on the press.

The parties, in­clud­ing the com­mit­tee, will be be­fore Su­per­i­or Court Judge Al­fred Irving next week for a hear­ing to dis­cuss how to move for­ward in the case.

As the dir­ect­or of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget, Or­sz­ag was an early Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion won­der boy, be­com­ing a sort of geek-chic sex sym­bol in Wash­ing­ton circles. But he was heav­ily cri­ti­cized when he jumped to Citi — widely viewed as a cul­prit in the fin­an­cial in­dustry down­turn. He also had a fall­ing out with the White House shortly after his de­par­ture when he pub­licly op­posed the pres­id­ent’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

His per­son­al life has been tu­mul­tu­ous. Fol­low­ing his mar­riage to Kennedy, with whom he had two chil­dren, it was re­por­ted that he fathered a child with Claire Mi­lo­nas, the daugh­ter of a Greek ship­ping mag­nate, be­fore en­ter­ing in­to his re­la­tion­ship with Go­lo­dryga, who co­hosts the week­end edi­tion of ABC’s Good Morn­ing Amer­ica. The couple, who mar­ried in 2010, have one child.

Or­sz­ag might be a mod­el ex­ample of the D.C. re­volving door. After a stint as an eco­nom­ic ad­viser in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, he formed a con­sult­ing firm and worked for the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. After his two-year run in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, he joined Cit­ig­roup, where he serves the bank as vice chair­man of Cor­por­ate and In­vest­ment Bank­ing, chair­man of the Pub­lic Sec­tor Group, and chair­man of the Fin­an­cial Strategy and Solu­tions Group.

He con­tends that dis­clos­ing his com­pens­a­tion, in­clud­ing his salary, stock awards, and be­ne­fits, would vi­ol­ate his con­fid­en­ti­al­ity agree­ment with the bank. He is also seek­ing to keep private the pro­ceeds from the sale of his con­sult­ing firm and rev­en­ue from speak­ing en­gage­ments.

Go­lo­dryga has sep­ar­ately entered the case in a bid to keep her fin­an­cial in­form­a­tion from dis­clos­ure, ar­guing she is not a party to the child-sup­port dis­pute. But be­cause the two have joint sav­ings and in­vest­ment ac­counts, Kennedy, in court doc­u­ments, con­tends Or­sz­ag is in­ap­pro­pri­ately cit­ing his wife’s pri­vacy con­cerns as a means to shield his own fin­an­cials from ex­pos­ure.

Iron­ic­ally, dur­ing his ten­ure in the Obama White House, Or­sz­ag was widely con­sidered to be a press-friendly wonk. Things have changed.

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