Obama's Former Budget Ace Fights to Hide His Finances
Peter Orszag, the president's former budget director, cashed out in a big way when he ditched government service for a plum job at Citigroup. But he doesn't want the world to know how big.
Orszag is battling a host of media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and Politico, over access to financial records that will be used as exhibits in his upcoming child-support trial in D.C. Superior Court.
Typically, documents in a civil-court proceeding are accessible to the public, but Orszag succeeded last year in quietly convincing a judge to seal financial records submitted in the case, including the salary he makes as a Citigroup vice president, from public view. In that request, Orszag worried that disclosure of his income might harm his career and "damage any eventual return to federal government service or other public office."
According to court documents, Orszag believes his ex-wife, Cameron Kennedy, will use the threat of public disclosure of his financials at trial as leverage to publicly embarrass him or persuade him to settle. He also seeks to keep information pertaining to his current wife, ABC News correspondent Bianna Golodryga—including her income—from being made public.
The current dispute with Kennedy is over the amount of child support Orszag owes in the wake of his upgrade to Wall Street.
The media advocacy group Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with nearly 10 major media companies, last month intervened in Orszag's case, asking the court to unseal the financial documents as they are used at trial. "The public has a legitimate interest in learning about how its political class obtains its wealth and how the 'revolving door' between the public and private sectors operates and contributes to that wealth," the committee argued in its filing.
In essence, the committee said, Orszag is demanding a trial out of the public eye. His fears about future harm to his career and image aren't enough "to overcome the presumption of openness," it said.
Orszag and his attorneys responded by accusing the media of being in league with Kennedy to obtain and publicize his financials. They recently sent subpoenas seeking all communications between Kennedy and the media entities, which the Reporters' Committee termed "an unseemly attack" on the press.
The parties, including the committee, will be before Superior Court Judge Alfred Irving next week for a hearing to discuss how to move forward in the case.
As the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Orszag was an early Obama administration wonder boy, becoming a sort of geek-chic sex symbol in Washington circles. But he was heavily criticized when he jumped to Citi—widely viewed as a culprit in the financial industry downturn. He also had a falling out with the White House shortly after his departure when he publicly opposed the president's plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.
His personal life has been tumultuous. Following his marriage to Kennedy, with whom he had two children, it was reported that he fathered a child with Claire Milonas, the daughter of a Greek shipping magnate, before entering into his relationship with Golodryga, who cohosts the weekend edition of ABC's Good Morning America. The couple, who married in 2010, have one child.
Orszag might be a model example of the D.C. revolving door. After a stint as an economic adviser in the Clinton administration, he formed a consulting firm and worked for the Brookings Institution. After his two-year run in the Obama administration, he joined Citigroup, where he serves the bank as vice chairman of Corporate and Investment Banking, chairman of the Public Sector Group, and chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group.
He contends that disclosing his compensation, including his salary, stock awards, and benefits, would violate his confidentiality agreement with the bank. He is also seeking to keep private the proceeds from the sale of his consulting firm and revenue from speaking engagements.
Golodryga has separately entered the case in a bid to keep her financial information from disclosure, arguing she is not a party to the child-support dispute. But because the two have joint savings and investment accounts, Kennedy, in court documents, contends Orszag is inappropriately citing his wife's privacy concerns as a means to shield his own financials from exposure.
Ironically, during his tenure in the Obama White House, Orszag was widely considered to be a press-friendly wonk. Things have changed.