The Obama Watch

Obama’s Plenipotentiary

Ken Feinberg is not the "independent third party" Obama promised would oversee the $20 billion BP escrow account.

By 6.17.10

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During the Bush Administration, Attorney General John Ashcroft had to find someone to equitably distribute the proceeds from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. He settled on Ken Feinberg. Feinberg was capable, competent, and independent -- he was, after all, a Democrat.

Fast-forward several years, and President Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office. He tells the American people that BP must escrow $20 billion in funds to pay victims' claims, and that those claims will be "administered by an independent third party."

The next day, the President appointed Ken Feinberg for the job.

Ken Feinberg is still competent and capable, and he did a fine job allocating funds under the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. But he isn't a third party, and he is far from independent.

Ken Feinberg is a pawn of the President and the Obama agenda. Not only does he constantly and consistently agree with the President (try to think of one time he has parted ways with our Chief Executive), he is a member of the Obama Administration. That is hardly an independent third party.

Worse than simply being a member of the administration, he is a czar in the administration -- the pay czar who determines the amount of compensation executives deserve if their companies received TARP money (and quite frankly, that should be determined by an independent third party too, but at least we were never promised it would be). 

Czars have almost unlimited power and are not subject to Congressional oversight like their cabinet-member counterparts.

That means the payment of claims under the new $20 billion escrow account will be another set of money that is controlled solely by the President. This is yet another instance of this President extending his reach. Another instance of upsetting the careful balance of powers our forefathers so prudently placed in our founding document.

Our democracy depends on a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.

When Feinberg was asked to oversee the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, a Republican administration and a Republican Attorney General were asking someone from the other side of the aisle to supervise the fund. That is true independence. Feinberg was certainly not a member of the Bush administration and had no allegiance to it. The funds were paid out properly and fairly.

But can you imagine President Obama appointing a Republican to oversee the claims of oil spill victims? Never! But the least he could do is appoint someone who isn't a high-ranking administration official.

The President promised us independence. He promised us a third party. The American people deserve to have the confidence that a system is put into place that is fair and equitable. And the people of the gulf deserve to be compensated by BP in a process that is unbiased and suffers from no political implications. But most of all, we deserve a President who keeps his promises -- at least a single day after he makes them.

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About the Author

Russ Ferguson is a lawyer and writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.