By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Leon E. Panetta, President Obama's pick to head the CIA, earned more than $1 million last year in consulting and speaking fees and from service on the boards of nearly a dozen institutions and corporations, according to documents released yesterday.
The Democratic former congressman from California, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, disclosed his earnings as required by law to the Office of Government Ethics, which released them publicly on the eve of his Senate confirmation hearing. Though a surprise choice to head the spy agency, Panetta has bipartisan support in the Senate and is expected to win confirmation easily.
Administration officials said that Panetta's financial dealings had been carefully vetted and that no problems or surprises were expected. His consulting arrangements and speeches for well-connected companies such as the Carlyle Group and Merrill Lynch were described as consistent with those of other former high-ranking government officials who pursue careers in the private sector.
Panetta's largest consulting fee came last year from California State University's office of the chancellor, which paid him $150,000 for a variety of activities, an Obama spokesman said. These included helping establish a literacy program called America Reads and creating a new campus at Monterey Bay. He also received a salary of $50,000 from Santa Clara University, where he teaches and serves as an outside speaker.
"He gave speeches, that's part of how he made a living," said one administration official who agreed to discuss the disclosures on the condition of anonymity. Panetta's fees for those speeches to private companies, universities and trade groups ranged from $1,500 to $28,000, for a total of $250,000 in 2008, the report showed.
Some of his biggest fees came from his membership on corporate advisory boards, under a system that allows firms to attract prestigious individuals without giving them a basic responsibility -- or even direct say -- in how things are run.
Panetta's largest director's fee last year, $170,000 in cash and stock options, came from Zenith National Insurance, which promotes safety on the job but specializes in protecting businesses from the financial consequences of workplace injuries. Other board members include Catherine B. Reynolds, head of EduCap, a controversial student loan company that is under investigation by the IRS.
Separately, the Senate intelligence committee is looking into Panetta's ties to EduCap, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company's links to Thomas A. Daschle became an issue in his failed bid to become secretary of health and human services.
Panetta was paid $125,000 in director fees from BP Corporation North America; three former senators -- Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Daschle (D-S.D.) -- were on the board with him. Panetta received an additional $120,000 from the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm for serving on its international advisory board, which also included former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Researcher Julie Tate and staff writers Valerie Strauss and Amit Paley contributed to this report.