By Megan R. Wilson - 12/21/12 11:00 AM EST
American Express chief executive Kenneth Chenault, who is seen as a potential Cabinet pick for President Obama, is a familiar face at the White House, the Federal Reserve and other agencies, records show.
Chenault is a member of Obama’s Jobs Council and has made 18 trips to the White House since 2009, according to visitor logs. He’s also made stops at the Federal Reserve, including two sit-down chats with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in 2009 and 2010, and has kept in regular contact with senior officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Given his high profile in Washington, few in the financial world were surprised this week when Chenault was floated as a candidate for Treasury or Commerce secretary in Obama’s second term.
The American Express executive is seen as “articulate leader” who could help repair the relationship between the financial-services industry and the Obama administration, according to one Republican strategist.
Scott Talbott, senior vice president of public policy for the Financial Services Roundtable, said Chenault would be an outstanding replacement for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
“He has the knowledge and experience to lead the Treasury Department and help restore the U.S. economy,” Talbott said.
Chenault’s visits to the White House began soon after Obama took office, when he was among the business executives invited to a roundtable discussion. Since then, he has stopped in at the White House 17 times, including as a guest at the 2010 state dinner for then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
About a month after his first visit with Obama, Chenault sat down for a discussion with Bernanke at the Fed, according to schedule records that were obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request.
He has also been actively engaged with the CFPB since its creation by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in 2010. He made one trip to meet with Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator-elect who was then a special adviser for the bureau, according to records obtained by The Hill.
“He’s flying here for us,” said a note on Warren’s appointment calendar for the Oct. 13, 2010, meeting. The face-to-face chat came after a 15-minute phone call between Chenault and Warren at the end of September. They spoke again in December, following a CFPB site visit to American Express’s Florida headquarters
The CFPB became the one-stop regulatory shop for credit cards when it opened its doors in 2011. The bureau’s goals include simplifying paperwork, making the terms of cards clear and protecting consumers from abusive practices.
In October of 2012, American Express paid $112.5 million in penalties and refunds to customers after the CFPB and other regulators charged it violated consumer protection laws over several years.
Chenault has continued to meet with CFPB staffers since Warren’s departure. He met with Raj Date, the bureau’s deputy director, in November 2011, and had a talk in April 2012 with CFPB Director Richard Cordray.
The corporate chief has also donated a considerable sum to political candidates over the years, mostly to Democrats.
Campaign finance records show that Chenault and his wife, Katheryn, have donated nearly $178,000 to federal candidates and parties during the past two decades. Although Chenault has not given to Obama since his run for U.S. Senate in 2004, his wife gave $5,000 to the president’s 2012 reelection campaign.
A Cabinet position would likely mean a pay cut for Chenault. The Associated Press reported that his total compensation package for 2011 was $22.5 million.
Peter Schroeder contributed.