Thursday, April 29, 2010

Possible Supreme Court pick had ties with Goldman Sachs

WASHINGTON — A top prospect for the Supreme Court was a paid member of an advisory panel for the embattled investment firm Goldman Sachs, federal financial disclosures show.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan was a member of the Research Advisory Council of the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute, according to the financial disclosures she filed when President Obama appointed her last year to her current post. Kagan served on the Goldman panel from 2005 through 2008, when she was dean of Harvard Law School, and received a $10,000 stipend for her service in 2008, her disclosure forms show.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The advisory panel met once a year to discuss public policy issues and was not involved in any investment decisions, Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler said.

Kagan, the administration's top lawyer before the high court, has been named in news reports as a possible replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Last year, Obama interviewed her for the high court seat now held by Sonia Sotomayor.

If Kagan is nominated to replace Stevens, senators will scrutinize those ties to Goldman Sachs, said Northwestern University law professor Lee Epstein.

"One side will pick apart anything a nominee has done," said Epstein, who co-wrote a book on the politics of judicial nominations. "Here, Goldman Sachs doesn't have a lot of fans. It may make things more complicated for her."

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit against Goldman Sachs earlier this month, accusing the financial giant of failing to disclose important information about an investment it sold in 2007 that was tied to subprime mortgages. The SEC lawsuit alleges investors lost $1 billion and that Goldman Sachs didn't tell them it had packaged the mortgages at the request of a hedge fund manager who bet the housing bubble would burst.

Goldman Sachs insists it did nothing wrong. CEO Lloyd Blankfein will testify today before a Senate panel that the company did not bet against its clients.

The Global Markets Institute, Goldman Sachs' public policy research unit, was not involved in the conduct being challenged by the SEC. The council Kagan served on is a group of outside experts called on to organize discussions and examine public policy issues. The institute provides analysis and advice to Goldman Sachs and its clients.

Although Goldman's executives have been generous political donors, particularly to Democrats, some lawmakers are trying to distance themselves from that link. One example: Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who is running for the Senate in Illinois, announced he will return more than $20,000 in campaign contributions linked to Goldman Sachs.



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