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
Add to Briefcase
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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