Unprecedented: Top DOJ Officials Were Obama Bundlers with Wall Street Ties

Four of the top officials at the Department of Justice were all big money fundraisers for President Obama’s 2008 campaign with strong ties to Wall Street—the very entity the Obama Administration has said must be criminally prosecuted for bringing about the biggest financial crisis in U.S. history.

  • Attorney General Eric Holder: formerly of Covington & Burling law firm, in 2008 Holder himself represented big banks such as UBS and MBNA Bank. Holder was Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign co-chairman and raised $50,000 for the president’s campaign.

  • Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli: a managing partner at Jenner and Block law firm, whose clients include Merrill Lynch, Perrelli stepped down from his number-three position at DOJ in March. A former member of Obama’s National Campaign Finance Committee, Perrelli bundled $500,000 in campaign contributions.

  • Deputy Associate Attorney General Karol Mason: Karol Mason of Alston & Bird previously chaired the firm’s public finance group. She also bundled $500,000 for Obama. Holder awarded her a “Distinguished Service Award” for her work at the Department of Justice. Now, after almost three years at the Department of Justice, she has returned to Alston & Bird to work on their real estate finance and capital markets group.

  • Associate Attorney General Tony West: West was a partner at Morrison and Foerster law firm, whose clients include MF Global, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America. West was also co-chairman of Obama’s campaign and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “was instrumental in helping the candidate raise an estimated $65 million in California.” Formerly the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, West is now number three at the DOJ and bundled $500,000 for the president’s campaign.  

Despite Holder and Obama’s “get tough” rhetoric against Wall Street, to date, there has not been a single criminal charge filed by the federal government against any top executive of the elite financial institutions. 

In the age of presidential bundling, staffing the Department of Justice’s top brass with big money fundraisers is unprecedented. To be sure, William French Smith shared Ronald Reagan’s legal philosophy and was a close political friend. And Janet Reno shared Bill Clinton’s judicial philosophy. But neither were fundraisers. 

The nexus between big money campaign fundraising and senior appointments at the Department of Justice raises numerous questions and appearances of conflict of interest that go far beyond mere recusal from certain cases. Furthermore, many of the financial institutions the Department of Justice claims to be criminally investigating for financial fraud are former clients of the law firms from which DOJ’s top brass hail.

Put simply, the “cops on the beat” come from the very places that represent Big Finance and the big banks. What’s more, as with the case of former Deputy Associate Attorney General Karol Mason, top Justice officials often return to these same law firms after completing their time in public service. 

“And that’s where they’re going back to,” says William Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. “Everybody knows there is a problem with that.”