A public interest watchdog group is urging Harvard University to fully report the financial ties of professor and former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers so it’s clear whether he might personally benefit when speaking as a policy expert.
“It is crucial that Professor Summers disclose to the public any personal income or academic funding he receives from corporations, or from entities principally funded by corporations,” the Revolving Door Project wrote in a letter to Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, as well as the top editors of Bloomberg News and The Washington Post, where he is a contributor. “Without proper disclosure, Professor Summers, and thus Harvard, Bloomberg, and The Washington Post, lose credibility.”
Summers — himself a former Harvard president who also served as Treasury secretary under former president Bill Clinton and the top economic adviser to former president Barack Obama — is frequently quoted in the media on a range of business and economic topics. He writes regularly for the Post’s opinion section and appears on Bloomberg TV’s “Wall Street Week.”
In its letter, the liberal-leaning Revolving Door noted that Summers’ extensive curriculum vitae on Harvard’s website doesn’t mention the economics professor is a director of Block Inc., a financial tech company, and a senior adviser to the venture capital firm Digital Currency Group.
However, Summers’ personal website does note his board work for Block, as well as Doma Holdings and SkillSoft Corp., and that he has consulted for D.E. Shaw & Co. and Citigroup, among other clients.
“Given these extensive ties to firms that stand to benefit from specific economic policy decisions, the question of when Summers provides advice genuinely reflecting economic analysis versus when he simply pushes for decisions that will line his pockets is incredibly important,” Revolving Door’s letter said.
Summers, Harvard, Bloomberg, and the Post didn’t respond Monday to e-mails seeking comment.
Eleanor Eagan, research director for the governance team at Revolving Door, said financial disclosure is lacking throughout academia. The group previously sent letters calling out potential conflicts of interest for law professors at Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania.
But neither of those professors — Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern and Penn’s Herbert Hovenkamp — carries the same stature as Summers.
“Summers is incredibly influential,” Eagan said. “There is an expectation that he is presenting himself in an impartial way.”