My 2012 Financial Transparency Person of the Year Picks

November 28th, 2012

flickr / World Economic Forum

This week TIME Magazine opened polling to their readers to weigh in on their nominations for Person of the Year. Generally, I think their picks are pretty good, although sometimes their nominations are a little off the mark (Roger Goodell, really?). Anyway, the nominations got me to thinking what a Transparency Person of the Year would look like. Keeping with TIME’s definition, this would be someone who influenced the news, for better or worse, on issues related to financial transparency. Here are my picks.

CARL LEVIN. I’m going to go with the most obvious one first. If I did this list every year, the Senator from Michigan’s name would probably appear every time. Over his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Senator Levin has proved himself a formidable adversary for those powerful interests who seek to take advantage of weakness in our economic and financial system at the expense of ordinary Americans. Senator Levin has sponsored three key pieces of legislation that would promote transparency: the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act; the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Act; and the Equal Access to Tax Planning Act. He’s continued to fight for this legislation this year.

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA. The globally renowned economist, Nigeria’s finance minister, and one of three candidates in this year’s race for President of the World Bank has long been an advocate of improving the financial systems to reduce illicit financial flows. At the Center for Global Development / Washington Post forum in April she again encouraged the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to take up the issue of illicit financial flows. As Finance Minister in Nigeria, she’s helped the country get proactive about these issues, fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption.

DAVID BARSTOW. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter from the New York Times spent ten months following a paper trail to figure out exactly which Wal-Mart executives knew about the bribery scandal and its allegations in Mexico. Barstow revealed that high-level executives at Wal-Mart not only were aware of the allegations that its Mexican subsidiary had been systematically paying bribes, but they also suppressed an internal investigation. When the story broke, it ignited an international conversation on foreign bribery that compares to the Lockheed scandal.

MITT ROMNEY. The Republican nominee for President this year ruffled a lot of feathers, but his tax returns ranked among his most knotty PR problems. And it wasn’t just about the tax records we didn’t see. When he released last year’s returns, we learned Mitt Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 Cayman Island funds and another investment, worth between $5 million and $25 million, showed up on securities records as domiciled in the Caymans. The conversation that followed not only questioned the ethics of his offshore accounts, but also fueled a conversation about tax avoidance among our nation’s most wealthy. Alex Cobham, Head of Research at Save the Children, tweeted that Romney’s use of “every tax trick in the book” would make such tactics harder in the future since he’s “bringing attention to things that weren’t getting any.”

HILLARY CLINTON. The outgoing Secretary of State is the only person who will show up on both TIME’s list and my own, but for good reason. This year, Secretary Clinton brought attention to the issue when urged the SEC to go “as far as possible” in issuing rules under Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which requires petroleum and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. She’s also expressed strong condemnation against efforts to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and brought attention to the massive development challenges associated with the resource curse.

Now you. Any additions, suggestions, or objections?

Written by Ann Hollingshead

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