At least three of Donald Trump's Cabinet officials are receiving multimillion-dollar payouts — so-called "golden parachutes" — from the companies they are leaving to join the federal government.
Exxon Mobil will pay Rex Tillerson, its former CEO, a compensation package worth $180 million after he becomes secretary of state. Elaine Chao will receive between $1 million and $5 million from the bank Wells Fargo on her way to oversee Trump's transportation department. Goldman Sachs will award Gary Cohn, incoming chair of the National Economic Council, close to $285 million.
Democrats have said these "golden parachutes" are a form of corruption — payments from corporations seeking to win favor with new government regulators. Progressives in the Senate, like Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, criticized President Barack Obama on the same grounds when he also nominated bank executives who were taking payments from their former employers.
The banks offering the parachutes, and the officials receiving them, call those charges wildly misleading. They say the payments are necessary to separate new government officials from their existing company holdings (like stocks), rather than amounting to any kind of special gift.
Independent experts in campaign finance disagree. "The point here is obviously for the business to try to befriend the regulator so he or she goes soft on them," says Craig Holman, legal counsel at the money-in-politics advocacy firm Public Citizen. "This really ought to outrage everybody."