Why He Matters
The man who worked behind the scenes for ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) suddenly finds himself center stage as chief of staff at the Obama Treasury Department. A former lobbyist for banking giant Goldman Sachs, Patterson came under fire as he was named to the post the same day Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner outlined rules to keep lobbyists away from the decision process for the allocation of the rest of the bailout money, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Patterson was allowed to join the Treasury despite President Barack Obama’s executive order signed January 21, 2009, that bans the hiring of a lobbyist to work in an issue area in which they have lobbied over the past two years.(1) Patterson was considered the best man for the job, and he’ll step away from government duties related to Goldman, a company that has received $10 billion in government bailout funds.(2)
He joins the Treasury at a tumultuous time as the department is at the center of the administration’s efforts to stave off more job losses and rescue the U.S. economy. Geithner and Obama invested considerable political capital in passing the $787 billion economic stimulus bill in February 2009. They also introduced plans detailing the most efficient way to use the final $350 billion of the TARP fund that the Senate authorized in January 2009.
Path to Power
As a staffer for prominent senators throughout his career, Patterson has spent much of his life in the background. Patterson was born to a New York librarian mother and a father who was a high school English teacher.(3) He earned his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Albany and received a law degree from Catholic University.
Patterson worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Moynihan from 1985 to 1988. After going to law school and working in a private practice for several years, he rejoined Moynihan’s office as a legislative director before getting promoted to chief counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.(4) In 1999, Patterson joined Sen. Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) staff as policy director before becoming staff director for the moderate Democratic Leadership Committee.(5) He would work there until the end of 2003 when he went back to the private sector as a Goldman lobbyist.
While at Goldman, Patterson was a registered lobbyist for topics that included energy tax credits, tax treatment of corporate reorganization transactions and covered bonds.(2) He kept an eye on other issues that the company never took a stance on like foreclosure-prevention measures and executive compensation rules regarding shareholder votes.(6) Patterson stayed at the bank until April 2008.
On Geithner’s first full-day on the job at Treasury, he announced rules that limited lobbyist influence on the $350 billion worth of TARP funds released in January 2009 to the new administration. But on that same day, Geithner also named Patterson, a former Goldman lobbyist, as his chief of staff.(7)
Despite some criticism, Patterson received a White House waiver to work at Treasury, and he has promised to recuse himself when certain issues related to Goldman Sachs are discussed.(2)
"Mr. Patterson has a long history of public service in the United States Senate. He brings significant expertise to the job of chief of staff, and has agreed to a far-reaching ethics pledge to remove any hint of a conflict of interest," said Treasury spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.(6)
Patterson worked in a few positions under ex-Sen. Tom Daschle (D), and was considered part of Daschle’s inner circle, along with lawyer Mark Childress.(8)
While working at Goldman Sachs, Patterson donated $20,350 in political contributions since 2004. All of his campaign donations went to Democratic candidates, including $4,000 to Tom Daschle in 2004.(9)