President Barack Obama recently nominated Hester Maria Peirce to fill a Republican seat on the Securities and Exchange Commission.
His announcement included her formal title — senior research fellow and director of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University — which sounds a lot like an academic post.
But Peirce, new disclosures show, received 98 percent of her salary directly from the Mercatus Center, a “think tank” that provides an academic façade to a radical anti-regulatory agenda. The Center’s so-called research reflects the lobbying priorities of its corporate funders — chief among them, Koch Industries.
Photo: Chris Maddalini/CQ Roll/AP
Asked about any potential conflicts of interest given her work for the Mercatus Center, Peirce told The Intercept, “I appreciate you reaching out but I cannot comment at this point.”
The Mercatus Center has been described by the Wall Street Journal “as a coordinating center for lobbyists trying to block a flurry of regulations.” Congressional records show the think tank routinely cited in over a dozen hearings over the last two years by lawmakers seeking to roll back regulations on business interests.
Financial reporters say the nomination of Peirce to fill a Republican vacancy on the commission comes as no surprise, especially given the nominee’s close ties to congressional Republicans, who now control the U.S. Senate confirmation process. Peirce has appeared on Capitol Hill as an expert witness on financial reform issues, and is a former staff member to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chair of the Senate Banking Committee.
Although Peirce has been referred to in media reports and government websites by her George Mason University affiliation, forms recently disclosed through the Office of Government Ethics reveal that over the last year, Peirce earned $203,114 from the Mercatus Center and only $3,847 from George Mason University for her work as an adjunct professor.
Through the Mercatus Center, Peirce has penned a number of pieces arguing against regulations concerning Wall Street banks, including the Volcker Rule, which is designed to limit risk by forcing investment banks to spin off proprietary trading.
The Mercatus Center is one of the first think tanks formed by the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers to influence government policy. Richard Fink, a close adviser to Charles Koch and an executive with Koch Industries’ lobbying division, is a founding board member. Charles Koch himself still occupies a board seat. Foundation documents show that entities controlled by the Koch family have provided over $35 million to the Mercatus Center over the years.
Known primarily for its petrochemical, pipeline, and manufacturing facilities, Koch Industries also deals in a range of financial products, including derivatives. Lobby registration forms show the firm is deeply involved in implementation efforts of the Dodd-Frank reform law.
In addition to Koch, the Mercatus Center has in previous years received funding from ExxonMobil, Morgan Stanley, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Frank Atkinson, the chair of McGuireWoods Consulting LLC, a lobbying firm that represents clients on financial regulation issues, also oversees the Mercatus Center as a member of the board.