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What We Know About Trump and Clinton's Treasury Picks

Clinton has been defending herself from accusations that she is too cozy with Wall Street since the primaries, when an obscure U.S. senator from Vermont built a movement in part by blasting her for collecting chunky speaking fees from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS). Trump has carried on with that line of attack, telling an Iowa rally in late September, "if she ever got the chance, she'd put the Oval Office up for sale." So it may seem odd that Trump's campaign finance chair and apparent favorite for the Secretary of the Treasury, according to a Fox Business report on November 3rd, is second-generation Goldman Sachs partner Steve Mnuchin.

There is less clarity about who Clinton would nominate if she won, perhaps because she has to contend with skepticism of capitalism-as-usual among fans of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, without veering too far to the left of the general electorate. Two names tend to pop up, however: Facebook Inc. (FB) COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, followed by Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard. Other possibilities include TIAA CEO and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL, GOOG) board member Roger Ferguson.

Trump: Mnuchin

Steve Mnuchin may not seem to be the obvious choice to fashion economic policy for a populist, anti-establishment campaign like Trump's. Before taking over as the Republican's campaign finance chair in May, Mnuchin pursued a varied career as an investment banker, hedge fund manager, retail bank owner and film producer. (See also, Trump Announces New Economic Advisory Team.)

After graduating from Yale, where he roomed with Sears Holdings Corp.'s (SHLD) current CEO Edward Lampert, Mnuchin cut his teeth at Salomon Brothers. He joined Goldman Sachs, where his father was a partner, in 1985. According to a 2012 Bloomberg profile, Mnuchin was "front and center" when instruments such as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were created. Fairly or unfairly, such exotic securities carry a whiff of the financial crisis, as does Goldman Sachs' mortgage department, which Mnuchin headed for a spell before becoming chief information officer in 1999.

He left Goldman Sachs in 2002 to work at his college roommate's hedge fund. The next year he started another fund with George Soros, and a year after that he formed Dune Capital with two other Goldman alums. This period marked the beginning of Mnuchin's Hollywood career, with Dune Capital's production wing funding dozens of films including Mad Max: Fury Road, American Sniper and Avatar.

Mnuchin's biggest financial opportunity came with the collapse of the subprime mortgage bubble. "In 2008 the world was a scary place," Mnuchin told Bloomberg in 2012. The market for mortgage-backed securities, with which he was intimately familiar, had collapsed, and no one seemed able to assign a value to assets such as IndyMac, a bank the FDIC had taken over. Mnuchin and a consortium of private equity investors he managed to woo over, including Soros, bought it on the cheap. The deal included a loss-sharing agreement with the FDIC. They renamed the bank OneWest and began foreclosing on borrowers, attracting criticism from campaigners who portrayed it as overly zealous and possibly driven by a profit incentive – born of the loss-sharing agreement – to foreclose rather than pursuing other options. (See also, Lessons Learned from the Banking Crisis.)


Mnuchin has donated to Clinton in the past, as has Trump. Speaking to Bloomberg in August, though, he was on message: "she's obviously raised a ton of money in speaking fees, in other things, from special interest groups. This campaign is focused on people who want to help rebuild the economy."

Clinton: Sandberg, Brainard or Ferguson

Clinton suggested at a town hall meeting in April that she plans to fill half of her cabinet with women. Most reports regarding her pick for Treasury secretary, a position that has never been filled by a woman, mentioned Facebook's Sheryl Sanderberg and the Fed's Lael Brainard. Another, less-frequently mentioned name is Roger Ferguson, who would be the first African-American to hold the job.


Sandberg has Treasury Department experience. Before becoming one of the most successful women in notoriously macho Silicon Valley, she served as chief of staff to Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. She received her BA and MBA from Harvard in the 1990s and spent a year at McKinsey & Co. She worked for Summers, who had been her professor at Harvard, from 1996 to 2001, which offered her the experience of dealing with the Asian financial crisis. She spent the next seven years as a vice-president of Google, then Mark Zuckerberg hired her away as Facebook's chief operating officer. Within two years she had turned the company profitable. In 2012 she became the first female member of Facebook's board. (See also, Who Is Driving Facebook's Management Team?)

Sandberg has also become an icon for some feminists for her 2013 book Lean In – and its attendant hashtag – which documents the barriers women face in the workplace while encouraging them to dispense with internalized barriers, fears and excuses that hold them back. Despite a generally enthusiastic reception, some critics have labeled the book as elitist: the opportunity to network at Davos may have made Sandberg's barrier-breaking easier. (See also, Sheryl Sandberg's Latest Speech Goes Viral.)


Lael Brainard spent part of her childhood in communist East Germany and Poland with her diplomat father. She studied at Wesleyan and went on to get a masters and a doctorate in economics from Harvard. She taught at MIT's Sloan School of Management and worked at McKinsey before joining the Clinton administration as deputy director of the National Economic Council. She went to work at the Brookings Institution during the Bush administration, then served in Obama's Treasury as undersecretary for international affairs. At that time, that position – often described as the Treasury's top diplomat – was the highest Treasury post a woman had held. (See also, Fed's Brainard Urges Caution on Interest Rate Hike.)

Brainard has been a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors since June 2014, where she's attracted praise from progressives and deep suspicion from conservatives for appearing to depart from the central bank's technocratic, apolitical norms. She engaged with "Fed Up" activists protesting plans to tighten monetary policy at August's Jackson Hole meeting. (See also, Rising U.S. Labor Productivity Cements Fed Hike.)

Brainard also gave the maximum amount of $2,700 to Hillary Clinton's campaign. That decision earned furious condemnation from Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee during Fed chair Janet Yellen's September testimony, which came just two days after Trump accused the Fed of "doing political things" at the first presidential debate. Yellen defended Brainard's donation, saying she had not violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees in the executive branch from engaging in certain political activities.


Roger Ferguson earned a BA, JD and Ph. D in economics from Harvard then worked as an attorney in New York from 1981 to 1984. He spent the following 13 years at McKinsey, then joined the Fed Board of Governors in 1997. He became vice chair two years later, and rumors began to swirl in 2005 that he would be the next chair. Bush nominated Ben Bernanke instead, and Ferguson resigned shortly after Bernanke's term began the following February.

In 2008 he became president and CEO of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF, since shortened to TIAA). He has been a board member of Alphabet since June 2016.

By David Floyd