Biden’s senior adviser Anita Dunn must divest investment portfolio to avoid conflict

Biden’s senior adviser Anita Dunn must divest investment portfolio to avoid conflict

White House senior adviser Anita Dunn is being forced to divest an investment portfolio estimated to be worth between $16.8 million and $48.2 million, which ethics attorneys say raises significant conflicts of interest in her new role.

The political and communications strategist will also have to withdraw from countless national and international issues affecting her former clients.

Dunn’s newly released financial reports, which are 93 pages long, show extensive stock, option, bond and private equity holdings — fortunes she and her husband, veteran attorney Bob Bauer, have amassed over the years. Bauer is an influential attorney who served in the White House under the Obama administration; Dunn is a founding member of consulting firm SKDK, where the White House says she’s been paid $738,715 over the last roughly 2½ years. The disclosure form also provides insight into her extensive client list at SKDK.

White House spokesman Chris Meagher told CNBC in an email Thursday that Dunn must divest its holdings and is withdrawing from all matters involving SKDK and its previous clients. She will also be banned from meetings involving her for two years, in line with Biden-Harris’ ethics pledge, he said. The form discloses transactions in the two calendar years prior to her May 9 appointment, Meagher added.

“The code of ethics requires White House officials to steer clear of matters that conflict with their financial interests. When officials have a large remit and an even larger stock portfolio, sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said Kedric Payne, vice president and general counsel of The Watchdog Campaign Legal Center, after reviewing their disclosure.

Dunn worked as one of his senior advisors to the President from January 2021 to August before returning for a short stint this March. She was considered a special government employee for both offices, exempt from disclosing her assets. She was not required to file a public disclosure form until her last appointment in May.

She returned as President Joe Biden’s public polls were in flux and the administration grappled with a series of vexing global and national crises, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a shortage of computer chips, soaring gas prices and skyrocketing inflation. Biden also announced that he would nominate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court in late February.

The disclosure also shows dozens of stock holdings acquired by Dunn and her husband, including call and put options tied to the S&P 500, corporate and municipal bonds, and a plethora of individual stocks held in numerous brokerage accounts. These brokerage accounts show investments in corporate giants like Amazon, Alphabet, Boeing, Bank of America, Chevron, Dow, KKR, and Morgan Stanley. The couple’s portfolio is diverse and includes at least $500,000 tied up in a hedge fund.

Ethics requirements for White House officials and legislators do not require precise values, but instead draw on a fairly wide range. Based on her disclosure form, H. Jude Boudreaux, a senior financial planner at The Planning Center, estimated her and her husband’s worth at between $16.8 million and $48.2 million. Boudreaux is a Certified Financial Planner with The Planning Center. Lee Baker, a certified financial planner at Apex Financial Services, estimates Dunn and her spouse’s net worth to be between $18 million and $38 million. Their attributes are not listed on the form or included in the calculation of their net worth.

The couple held between $1,000 and $15,000 in corporate bonds issued by Lockheed Martin, Phillip Morris, Target, Bank of America, Apple and Boeing, among others — all companies that have frequent and multiple problems that require federal oversight. The pair held between $15,001 and $50,000 in debt issued by numerous other companies including Cisco Systems, Oracle, Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Visa and Amazon. They also have numerous accounts or interests in mutual funds that are worth more than $500,000 each. Dunn also held between $1 million and $5 million in shares in marketing firm Stagwell, which she received after acquiring SKDK in 2015.

They also made tens of thousands of dollars by exercising put options on the iShares Core S&P 500 Index, which Walter Shaub, who formerly headed the Office of Government Ethics, said could create conflicts of interest with “every single company” in the S&P 500 in the Obama administration and briefly served in the Trump administration.

“Options are under no circumstances exempt from the Conflicts of Interest Act. That means she came into government with a conflict of interest with every company for whose stock she optioned and every company in the referenced indices,” Shaub said after reviewing Dunn’s financial disclosures. He said she must sell all options or retire for any issue “affecting every company in the S&P 500 and every other company whose stock is the subject of an option it holds.”

The power couple also held numerous municipal bonds that were used for state and local infrastructure and school projects across America, including in Burlington County, New Jersey; Clark County, Nevada; the Klein County Independent School District in Texas; and Miami Dade County, Florida to name a few. The Biden administration has spent hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars on local, city, and state agencies and schools to improve transportation infrastructure, high-speed Internet access, and invest in other public works projects.

SKDK is among the 25 highest-paid Democratic political providers in the country, according to non-partisan campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets. Data shows that SKDK was paid more than $65 million from pro-democracy campaigns during the 2020 election cycle. According to OpenSecrets data, Biden’s campaign paid over $2 million for SKDK’s services in the last cycle.

In an interview Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” she previewed the president’s upcoming agenda as the White House clinches victories with expected passage of the anti-inflation bill and signing of the CHIPS and science bills.

“So tackling the ongoing opioid crisis that we have in this country is one of the things that he thinks we should and can work together on,” Dunn said in Thursday’s interview on MSNBC. “Cancer and ending cancer as we know it. Again, something very bipartisan that he believes everyone should work together on and will continue to push. And he will continue to work toward an economy that truly works for working people in this country.”

Micron, one of Dunn’s former clients, announced shortly after the CHIPS act was signed that it would invest $40 billion in chip manufacturing in the US by 2030. She stopped working for Micron before returning to the White House .

Other customers include AT&T, the American Clean Power Association, Lyft, Pivotal Ventures, Pfizer, Salesforce and Reddit.

Pivotal Ventures is an investment firm founded by Melinda French Gates, who divorced billionaire Bill Gates last year. French Gates has repeatedly visited the Biden-led White House, including as recently as April, according to White House visitor logs. Meagher said the French Gates meetings were not organized by Dunn, but noted that her previous work for Pivotal focused on issues related to paid family leave.

Salesforce hasn’t been a Dunn client since 2020, but is for a media training project, Meagher said. According to visitor logs, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his family met with Biden privately in mid-March. Meagher did not respond to a question about whether Dunn helped organize this meeting, and Salesforce did not respond to a request for comment.

Most of the other customers mentioned in this story have not responded to requests for comment. A Reddit spokeswoman declined to comment.

Alexander Byers, a spokesman for AT&T, told CNBC that SKDK “has provided us with strategic communications advice for more than a decade,” but Dunn wasn’t the account lead. She regularly gave advice, he said.