When President Obama's budget chief Peter Orszag left for Citigroup, it was one of the highest profile revolving-door cash-outs of the Obama administration.
Now Orszag is fighting in court for special protection against standard public records laws, which would ordinarily make public how much Citigroup is paying him.
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.
On a few points, I get Orszag’s arguments:
1. In general, most people don’t like their income being known. Is it really necessary in child-support cases that the parties’ income and assets become open to the public?
2. He’s probably right that his first wife – the mother of his first two children – could use the threat of exposing his salary, and the concomitant public opprobrium, as a way to extract from him a larger settlement than would be justified were he not a public figure.
But this second point reads to me like an argument why Orszag, more than the average person, should be subject to the public records laws. It suggests Orszag should be the last person to get special privacy rights.
Orszag is particularly sensitive to public disclosures of his wealth because he came into government with a liberal president who ran against the revolving door and positioned himself as a scourge of it and Wall Street. And Orszag, according to National Journal's report on his legal filings, is considering a return to government* after making lots of money at Citi. Presumably, Orszag would return to government in the employ of another left-leaning politician. And left-leaning politicians tend to rail against Wall Street, the wealthy and the revolving door.
So all the reasons it would embarrass Orszag to have his income exposed are the reasons why those concerned with honesty in government ought to want to know his income.
UPDATE 6:27 PM: Orszag's people email me that he's not planning to return to government, and more:
“Peter's sole motivation is to protect personal information in a family matter -- particularly that which involves his children. The Reporters Committee pulled one paragraph from a 39-page document out of context; Peter has no intention of returning to government service.”