Obama selects executive from The Hartford as legal counsel on economy

Consumer advocate groups are questioning President Obama’s selection of Neal Wolin as deputy White House counsel for economic affairs. Wolin, who’s position earlier this week was division vice president at The Hartford’s Property and Casualty area, has been very involved with the recent market financial crisis.

The Hartford purchased a small bank in Florida last fall so it could be become eligible for billions in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds.

Before joining HIG, Wolin was tied to the Clinton administration for a couple of years, where he was chief legal council at the Treasury Department during a time when the agency was loosening financial regulations.

From the Miami Herald

Consumer advocacy groups are upset – not just because Wolin was a top executive of a company seeking bailout money, but also because of the regulatory reform Obama promised that includes calls for first-ever federal regulation of the insurance industry.

“It raises questions. He may be a great lawyer, but he has to be walled off from insurance decision-making, and I assume he will be, based on Obama’s statements,” said Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer watchdog organization. “If he isn’t, I would be very troubled.” …

Consumer advocates want to know if Wolin will recuse, or distance, himself from any financial matter that affects Hartford.

“That could be an awful lot of stuff,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “It seems like it is very hard for him to both work on economic issues and not work on issues affecting The Hartford. It will be interesting to hear from the administration how they will walk that line.”

Wolin has long-standing ties to the Clinton administration. He was the chief legal counsel from 1999 to 2001 at the Treasury Department, serving under both Secretary Robert Rubin and Secretary Lawrence Summers. Those two men were instrumental in loosening financial regulation, later supported by the Bush administration, that allowed the rapid expansion of unregulated financial products that have come back to haunt the federal government and the global financial system.

Summers now heads Obama’s National Economic Council, and both he and Wolin have Facebook pages on the Internet that link to each other.

Wolin appears to be a late arrival to the Obama team. The Web site said that Wolin contributed $2,300 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Wolin will take a pretty big pay cut – as many who enter public office do – to work in the new administration.

The Hartford Courant has the local story.

Full disclosure. When I was working at HIG I did meet Neal a couple of times, but I do not think that I worked with him on anything more than meeting planning. I really don’t remember him at all.