Those accusing Neera Tanden, Biden's choice to lead OMB, of corruption have a personal vendetta

Photo: Gage Skidmore. License.

As President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris continue to reveal appointees to an administration focused on core competencies as well as policy advancement, those who fancy themselves the gateskeepers of progressivism in America are growing restless. And while the far left "movement" has created a narrative of general hostility against the incoming Democratic administration, Neera Tanden, Biden's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, has been a top recipient of the incoming fire.

Reporters Yeganeh Torbati and Beth Reinhard published exactly such a hit-piece against Tanden in the Washington Post, alleging that Tanden is an agent of corporate neoliberal overlords who really run America, pointing as evidence to the funding of the progressive think tank Tanden leads, the Center for American Progress (CAP). While Torbati and Reinhard are quick to assign guilt to Neera Tanden by association, however, they treat Tanden's detractors as objective critics, without even so much mentioning the history of personal animosity and political rivalry those critics have directed at Tanden and her allies over the years.

Tanden has long been an ally for Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as served in critical roles in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Featured in the Post are two alt-left socialists who have, again and again, picked fights with mainstream Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Andrew Cuomo, and needless to say, lost.

The first featured "expert," Zephyr Teachout, is identified by Torbati and Reinhard only as "a law professor at Fordham University in New York who has campaigned for elected office on curbing the power of special interests," but the authors conveniently leave out the fact that Teachout, a pro-Bernie Sanders crusader, used far-right talking points to accuse Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation of corruption. Teachout's assault on Hillary Clinton in 2015 was based on the book Clinton Cash, written by Peter Schweizer, who is now senior editor-at-large at the white nationalist site Breitbart. It is notable that the allegations laid out by Breitbart's Schweizer - that it was somehow corrupt for Bill and Hillary Clinton to give paid speeches as private citizens - became something of a rallying cry for the Sanders campaign in 2016, and did deep damage to Clinton in her general election campaign against Donald Trump.

That the Post editors would allow "reporting" like this without the full disclosure of the far-right, white supremacist-adjacent nature of a critic is outrageous.

Additionally, Teachout ran in the New York gubernatorial primaries for both the Democratic and Working Families Party nominations and lost badly to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Teachout also served as treasurer for the failed gubernatorial primary campaign of Cynthia Nixon - another Bernie Sanders ally - in 2018, who also lost badly to Cuomo. Teachout ran for New York Attorney General in 2018 and lost to the indomitable Leticia James. The one time Teachout managed to get the Democratic nomination for something, it was in 2016 for the 19th Congressional District in New York, and she then lost the general election to Republican John Faso by 9 points.

In fact, Teachout's smear campaign against mainstream Democrats is so wholly without merit that during the 2020 Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders himself had to apologize for Teachout's outlandish claims of corruption against now President-elect Joe Biden.

A second detractor cited in the Post to bolster the claim that Tanden is Matt Bruenig, who, once again is depicted as the head of a "left wing think tank that accepts only small donations" without an examination of Bruenig's history of personal, misogynistic animosity toward Neera Tanden.

Like Teachout, Bruenig is another Bernie Sanders diehard who dips into racism a fair bit himself, but couches it in supposed advocacy for young people. When writer Joan Walsh lodged modest criticism of the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 for being led by white people while they failed to perform among Black voters and other people of color, Bruenig slammed Walsh for "animus towards young people." But when Neera Tanden, a woman of color who as a child had been on welfare, became part of the conversation, Bruening called Tanden a "scumbag" for daring to say she knows a thing or two about the welfare system.

Subsequently, Demos, the progressive think tank where Bruenig was a part time writer, fired him for his racist and sexist attack on Tanden. I wonder if the fact that his personal attacks against someone got him fired from a job has anything to do with Bruenig's continued disdain for Tanden. Even if it doesn't, it's a background the reporters should have been duty-bound to present.

Once again, if you read Torbati and Reinhard's smear of Neera Tanden in the Washington Post, you would be none the wiser about any of this background. And I don't think that's because the authors ran out of digital ink. They either actively suppressed pertinent information about Tanden's accusers in an act of malice or were derelict in their journalistic duty to perform even a cursory background lookup of these individuals.

As I stated at the outset of this column, Torbati and Reinhard did not see fit to give Neera Tanden the same benefit of the doubt that they afforded Teachout and Bruenig. For Tanden, every dollar ever raised come with a seemingly lifetime association with the financial interests of those who wrote the checks.

The Post reporters dug into CAP's financial disclosures to find that it had taken money from ... well, basically, from people and entities that exist in the real world. What Yeganeh and Reinhard attempts to present as a corrupting influence of "at least $33 million" coming from Tanden's nefarious corporate masters, is actually how most public interest organizations are funded: through the philanthropic efforts of people who, generally speaking, have money.

That Neera Tanden and the Center for American Progress as an organization independent from the financial interests of its donors would be clear from a cursory examination of its policy work even if a CAP spokesperson did not provide an on-the-record comment that only between 2.5 and 7 percent of its funding had come from corporations. CAP has advocated for immigration justice, racial justice, economic parity, a massive clean energy investment and climate justice, criminal justice reform and ending systemic racism, LGBT equality, higher taxes on wealth, and student loan reform, among others.

The authors also recognize that many of CAP's donors freely admit that CAP is advancing policies that are against their personal and corporate financial interests, but they continue to fund CAP because they prize their values of a more just society as more important to them than their quarterly pocketbook interests.

Even worse than condemning Tanden with corporatism by association, Torbati and Reinhard accuse Tanden of essentially being a foreign agent because CAP's financial disclosures show they received between $1.5 and $3 million from the United Arab Emirates. That financial contribution, the leftists charge, have led to the relative silence of CAP when it came to legislation to end US assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, despite the fact that the intelligence community has held Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the disappearance and assassination of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This is a total and complete lie. Not only did CAP strongly condemn the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia, they explicitly advocated for Congressional action to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The disingenuous suggestion that CAP, under Tanden's leadership, stayed on "the sidelines" in the conflict is based on a report in the pro-Putin publication that CAP, along with organizations like Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, had declined to signed a petition by a far left group.

The authors of the piece, but more critically, the editors of Washington Post owe a duty to their readers to perform their job with objectivity, context, and fairness. They fail at all three here.

They should retract their smear and apologize to Neera Tanden.