- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

President Obama’s pick for commerce secretary, John E. Bryson, has earned millions of dollars in stock and compensation through his position as a director at the Walt Disney Co., a company that directly lobbies the department that Mr. Bryson now is poised to take over.

Mr. Bryson, 68, reported $201,660 in income from Disney through a stock-option exercise, but he also disclosed other Disney assets including a deferred-compensation plan worth more than $1 million, according to a government ethics filing. He also lists Disney stocks and option assets worth at least another $750,000.

The Senate voted Thursday evening 74-26 to confirm Mr. Bryson after months of delays and sharp criticism from some Republicans.

Under Mr. Obama’s ethics rules, nominees are not allowed to participate in specific matters involving former clients or employers unless they get a special waiver.

“Per standard administration ethics practice at the Department of Commerce, John Bryson would be recused from particular matters involving his former employers and clients,” White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said.

Mr. Bryson’s nomination had been stalled for months as Republicans criticized his role in forming the Natural Resources Defense Council and past statements on “cap-and-trade” legislation.

But his financial disclosure form on file at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics reflects less on his environmental ties, instead highlighting his ties to some of the nation’s most powerful corporate names, such as Disney, Boeing, Edison International and Deutsche Bank.

Indeed, the Disney compensation, though huge by most Americans’ standards, is just a slice of Mr. Bryson’s overall earnings and assets.

Though he departed his job as chief executive of Edison International in 2008, Mr. Bryson reported receiving more than $3.9 million in deferred compensation since last year and more than $8.8 million from a stock-option exercise.

In addition, Mr. Bryson reported earning $712,500 in advisory fees from investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. He resigned his post as director at Boeing after his nomination in May.

On ethics forms, he disclosed Boeing assets that include a deferred-compensation package worth $1 million to $5 million and stock options worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

He also reported earning $125,00 in advisory fees from Deutsche Bank, and a deferred compensation package from Wells Fargo that pays $6,500 per quarter until June 2013.

While the Wells Fargo deal expires in less than two years, Mr. Bryson is the beneficiary of three deferred-compensation plans from Edison International that last until 2018 and 2023, records show.

Disney did not return a message left with the company Tuesday, but its chief executive, Robert Iger, was among more than a dozen prominent people publicly supporting the nomination of Mr. Bryson in a White House blog post this week. The post was titled “Business and Civic Leaders Support John Bryson for Commerce Secretary.”

“John has been an incredibly valuable member of our Board, bringing experience and insight to complex issues,” Mr. Iger said.

According to Senate records, Disney lobbied the Commerce Department and other federal agencies this year on intellectual property enforcement issues as well as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Overall, the company spent more than $2 million lobbying the federal government on those and a host of other issues.

He also won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Thomas Donohue, predicted in the White House blog post that Mr. Bryson would be “a strong voice for American businesses.”

The May 31 White House announcement of Mr. Bryson’s nomination also said he has served on the boards of BrightSource Energy, the Public Policy Institute of California and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

BrightSource received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy this year. The award came through the same program now under scrutiny after the collapse of Solyndra LLC, which received more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees before going bankrupt last month.

Mr. Bryson reported $19,612 in directors fees from BrightSource since last year, as well as vested and unvested stock options worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

At Mr. Bryson’s confirmation hearing in June, he referred to his experience in corporate boardrooms.

“I think you know that I’ve served on quite a number of boards,” he said. “I won’t even touch on that other than to say, you know, I am also proud of being now with both Disney and Boeing.”

Mr. Bryson said he planned to be “a voice in the administration for simplifying regulation and eliminating those where the cause of the regulation exceed the benefits.”

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas backed his nomination in a floor speech Thursday. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Obama ought to have the leeway to choose Mr. Bryson.

“I believe that he is qualified to serve,” Mr. McCain said.

However, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, this week called Mr. Bryson “too extreme” for the Commerce job, pledging to try block the nomination.

During a floor speech, Mr. Inhofe also talked about a last-minute lobbying push under way on behalf of Mr. Bryson, with members of corporate boards who served with him calling up members of the Senate on his behalf.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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