Valerie Jarrett is a powerhouse with a killer resume: Trained lawyer, prominent Chicago business and civic leader, high-level mayoral aide, member of prestigious corporate and non-profit boards, mentor of young people, close friend of the Obamas, and senior Presidential advisor since 2009.
The current posting, as a key insider on the country’s biggest political stage, the White House, won her a cameo role on “The Good Wife.”
It also invited the scrutiny of watchdogs like the Better Government Association, whose mission is to shine a light on government leaders and hold them accountable.
Recently our award-winning Washington, D.C. reporters, Chuck Neubauer and Sandy Bergo, did just that—breaking a story about Jarrett that appeared in the Sun-Times—and here’s an excerpt:
“Valerie Jarrett… personally benefited from an income tax ‘loophole’ that she has worked to close because Obama says it unfairly helps the ‘wealthy and well-connected.’
“The precise amount of the break Jarrett received under the controversial ‘carried interest tax loophole’ is not known, but the Better Government Association estimated it could have saved her $200,000 or more.
“The loophole was applied to Jarrett’s earnings from a 2013 Chicago real estate deal involving a $160 million luxury apartment high-rise – earnings that topped $1 million and came while she was working for the White House as a senior advisor to the president.”
The front-page story attracted a lot of attention, but several local Jarrett associates said “so what?” because her actions don’t appear to violate any laws or circumvent any rules.
Maybe so, but consider that:
- Jarrett was part of the White House push to close a tax loophole that benefits wealthy developers and investors.
- So far the administration hasn’t been successful.
- Jarrett, however, was very successful personally—profiting handsomely on a pre-White House real estate investment and then cutting her tax liability in half—by privately taking advantage of the same tax break she was fighting publicly.
So, on the one hand she’s criticizing the “carried interest” loophole, as Obama did in a TV ad against 2012 Republican rival Mitt Romney.
On the other hand she’s profiting from it.
Disingenuous? Unethical? Conflict of interest? Legitimate questions watchdogs ask every day.
That’s the “what.”
So how could Jarrett have handled it differently?
- Recuse herself from the administration’s attempt to close the loophole.
- Not use it personally.
- Disclose the details publicly after benefiting from it.
There’s no indication she did any of the above.
But Jarrett wouldn’t talk to us for the story, answer our detailed questions or even confirm she profited from the loophole.
We had to confirm it independently.
Not surprisingly, she wasn’t very talkative when the BGA revealed, in an earlier story, that she started collecting a pension of about $35,000 a year, from her part-time role as CTA board chairman, after she turned 50 in 2006.
That’s on top of her $172,200 White House salary.
Some might say “so what?” to that disclosure.
Others appreciate stories about sweet pension deals and “double dipping”—collecting two government paychecks at the same time.
Either way, we’ll keep shining a light on government officials in positions of public trust—regardless of their power, prominence or defenders—for a simple reason:
Taxpayers and voters deserve to know this stuff.