Trump's Wealthy Appointments Contrast With Populist Campaign Tone
By Rebecca Ballhaus
President-elect Donald Trump, who ran a populist campaign, so far is assembling one of the wealthiest
administration teams in recent memory.
In the past few weeks, Mr. Trump has appointed three fellow billionaires to top administration positions, and at
least two other millionaires to his cabinet.
On Wednesday, he confirmed that he had tapped Wilbur Ross, the chairman of a private-equity firm, to serve as
commerce secretary . Mr. Ross has a net worth estimated at about $2.5 billion as of Dec. 1, according to Forbes
Mr. Trump also appointed Todd Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs and who Forbes says is worth about $1.7
billion, to serve as deputy commerce secretary.
Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker whose net worth is in the hundreds of millions, was chosen
as Treasury secretary, and Betsy DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist whose family has a net worth of about $5.1 billion,
was picked to head the Education Department.
All told, Mr. Trump's choices for those four positions have a combined net worth of at least $8.1 billion -- more
than four times the net worth of President Barack Obama's appointees for those posts in 2013 and about 20 times the
worth of President George W. Bush's picks at the outset of his second term, according to an inflation-adjusted Wall
Street Journal analysis of Forbes net-worth estimates and financial-disclosure forms. All the appointees' net worth
included their extended families in the Journal's analysis.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Trump's transition, called Mr. Trump's prospective appointees a "cabinet of
winners," and said their backgrounds give them insight into how to improve the economy for the middle class workers in
Mr. Trump's selections have won praise from many lawmakers in his party, who say his appointees' time in the
private sector will help them approach key policy issues from a fresh angle. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), the chairman
of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that Mr. Mnuchin's private-sector experience would allow him to "
play a pivotal role in bicameral efforts to revamp the nation's outdated tax code to create a healthier economic
Still, the concentration of wealth in Mr. Trump's cabinet contrasts with the businessman's rhetoric on the campaign
trail, where he struck a populist tone. He accused hedge-fund managers of "getting away with murder" by taking advantage
of tax-code loopholes and railed against the "financial elite" who donate to politicians for bolstering a rigged system
that left "millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache."
His rhetoric helped him win over voters in the $50,000-$99,000 household-income bracket, 50% of whom backed him
over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who got 46% of their votes. Among voters making $30,000 to $50,000, he lost by
just 9 percentage points, down from Mitt Romney's 15-point losing margin to President Obama in 2012.
Nominating wealthy business executives to serve in an administration isn't uncommon. Mr. Obama in 2013 tapped Penny
Pritzker -- a hotel heiress worth $1.85 billion at the time, according to Forbes -- to serve as commerce secretary. Mr.
Bush chose Henry Paulson -- a former Goldman Sachs CEO worth between $190 million and $392 million, according to his
personal financial disclosure -- to head the Treasury Department in 2006.
It is rarer, however, to have such a dense concentration of millionaires and billionaires in a cabinet. Mr. Obama
tapped Ms. Pritzker, but also nominated Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, whose net worth was at most $175,000 in
2013, according to financial-disclosure forms he filed at the time.
Mr. Mnuchin is the founder of a hedge fund and he, along with White House special counselor Steve Bannon, once
worked at Goldman Sachs -- whose ties to other candidates Mr. Trump attacked during the campaign. Messrs. Ross and
Ricketts were both top fundraisers for Mr. Trump during the campaign, and top donors also populate Mr. Trump's
transition team executive and finance committees.
Mr. Miller, the Trump spokesman, said Messrs. Mnuchin and Ross helped Mr. Trump craft his "economic populist
message" and now will help implement it. "There's nobody better to understand how the tax code works, to understand how
trade policies work, to understand just how American workers have been treated unfairly in recent years," Mr. Miller
said of the two wealthy appointees.
Mr. Trump's appointments have drawn criticism from both parties. Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman turned
conservative radio host who backed the Republican, tweeted on Wednesday, "Mr. Trump, this is bullshit. Can you hire
someone who doesn't work for Goldman Sachs?"
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) in a statement Wednesday called Mr. Mnuchin "just
another Wall Street insider, " and said of Mr. Trump's choice: "That is hypocrisy at its worst."
The wealth of Mr. Trump's appointees could complicate the Senate confirmation process ahead.
Economic posts, such as treasury and commerce secretary, require appointees to sell off their assets, other than
mutual and investment funds that don't disclose their holdings, to avoid any conflict of interest.
In addition to being an arduous process -- it took Ms. Pritzker at least five months to complete -- divesting also
comes at a "significant economic cost," said Robert Rizzi, a lawyer who has long aided political appointees, including
Ms. Pritzker, who are seeking Senate confirmation.
Mr. Trump's nascent administration may soon be adding more wealthy members.
Among the names mentioned to head the Energy Department are Harold Hamm, an oil executive whose net worth Forbes
estimates at $16.6 billion; millionaire Andy Puzder has been rumored as a possible labor secretary; and Mitt Romney,
whose $250 million net worth became a major issue during the 2012 presidential campaign, is one of four candidates being
considered for secretary of state.
On Wednesday, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue met with Mr. Trump to discuss "agriculture, productivity and needing
new trade deals," he said after the session. Asked if they had discussed the post of Agriculture Secretary, Mr. Perdue,
a multimillionaire, said the conversation wasn't that specific.
"He asked me what my skills sets were," he said.
"Aside from having been governor," Mr. Perdue noted his work "as a business person and primarily in agricultural
commodities, trading domestically and internationally."
"He lit up," Mr. Perdue said.
--Michael C. Bender contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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