Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General is going up for confirmation this week — and his nomination is just the latest example of the extent to which the Trump administration is captured by corporate America, despite its populist posture.
William Barr is Trump’s nominee to replace Jeff Sessions as the head of the US Department of Justice. Barr previously served as Attorney General for George H.W. Bush, after which he began a 25 year career in the corporate world. Much of this time was spent as the top lawyer for telecommunications company GTE and then, after GTE’s merger with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon, as the top lawyer for Verizon.
Media outlets like the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have reported on Barr’s dedicated service to the corporate world – with a particular focus on his GTE/Verizon days, as well as his roles at Time Warner (he’s been a board member since 2009 and clashed with the DOJ over the proposed Time Warner-AT&T merger) and Caterpillar (he represented the company in the face of a recent DOJ probe).
Barr has been a board member of three corporate giants over the past ten years: Time Warner (as mentioned), but also Dominion Energy (2009-present) and Och-Ziff Capital (2016-2018). As a director of these companies, Barr has raked in over $4.68 million during the past decade in cash payments and stock options – and very likely close to a million more than that, since three of his recent years of compensation are so far undisclosed, but probably fall in the range of $290,000 to $300,000, based on precedent. (This calculation also doesn’t take into account gains that Barr may have seen from increases in the value of his company stock rewards over the past decade’s stock market boom).
Moreover, his directorships in these three firms, all powerhouses across their respective sectors of mass media, energy, and finance, convey the scope of his commitments to the corporate world whose adherence to the law, as the nation’s top prosecutor, he’ll be tasked with overseeing:
- Time Warner. Barr has served on the Time Warner board since 2009, and in that time he’s been paid $1,979,689 in cash and stocks (in fact, he’s probably earned about a half-million more than this, since Time Warner proxy filings that show 2017 and 2018 director compensation are unavailable). Time Warner (which recently changed its name to Warner Media) is a media and entertainment giant that includes CNN, HBO, and a host of other assets. As a Time Warner director, Barr recently went to bat against the DOJ’s antitrust division over its opposition to the Time Warner/AT&T merger. As Attorney General, Barr would head a department that is still appealing that merger and would possibly oversee proposed mergers of Time Warner rivals.
- Dominion Energy. Barr has served on the Dominion board since 2009, and in that time he’s been paid $2,013,088 in cash and stocks through 2017 (2018 compensation data is not yet available). Dominion is an energy and utilities powerhouse based in Virginia that is expanding further across the US, from New York to South Carolina. It is the biggest stakeholder in the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile pipeline that will transport fracked-gas across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. In its home state of Virginia, Dominion – led by its powerful CEO Tom Farrell – is widely understood as one of the most influential actors in the state.
- Och-Ziff Capital. Barr served on the Och-Ziff board from August 2016 to January 2018, and in that time he was paid $687,638 in cash and stocks. Och-Ziff is a private equity firm that manages approximately $33 billion in assets as of last September. While Barr was on the board, the firm agreed to pay a $413 million fine for a bribery scandal (Barr chaired the firm’s Corporate Responsibility and Compliance Committee). Barr left the board amidst a struggle over the firm’s leadership – showing that he was far from a disinterested player.
All told, Barr took in $4,415,797 from these board memberships since 2009 – and again, that’s not counting his compensation from 2017 and 2018 for Time Warner and 2018 for Dominion, the sum of which would likely add another $800,000 to $900,000 to this total.
In addition, Barr has raked in big sums from his board memberships at a range of investment funds managed by Davis Advisors – these include the Clipper Fund from 2014 to 2016 and Selected Funds from 1994 from 2016. In 2012, for example, Barr took in $64,969 for his directorship over three funds advised by Davis Advisors.
Taken together, all this raises significant concerns over conflicts of interest and questions over whether Barr will provide adequate oversight of the corporate world that he’s served so devoutly and profited from so handsomely in recent years.
For example, the Wall Street Journal quotes Gene Kimmelman, the former chief counsel for the Justice Department’s antitrust division who now leads a consumer advocacy group, who said of Barr: “We’re particularly concerned that he could interfere with strong antitrust enforcement involving telecom or similar mergers, enabling further dangerous consolidation of essential broadband and media services.”
In addition to his corporate roles described above, Barr was also a board member of cement companies Holcim US and Aggregate Industries Management from 2008 to 2013, though his compensation from these roles is unknown.