Corporate America may not have a BFF in the Oval Office, but the White House still welcomes the nation’s business leaders. Lots of them.
The Obama administration has been making the White House visitor logs public since 2009, and it recently updated the records for 2014. Most people who visit the White House are ordinary Americans taking a public tour, but many VIPs drop by as well. We downloaded the latest data, which covers the first 11 months of 2014 and includes 747,000 individual records.
Of the 25 largest public companies, CEOs of at least 10 stopped in at the White House in 2014. A few others had appointments that ended up getting canceled. And lower-ranking corporate executives visit the White House routinely to discuss and negotiate policy matters, as this explanation of Google’s (GOOGL) many White House visits reveals.
It's typical, of course, for every president -- regardless of party -- to meet with his fellow chief executives from the private sector. “White House officials meet with hundreds of business leaders from companies small and large, to discuss a range of policy issues,” says White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine. “These meetings help keep the White House apprised of outside perspectives.”
Company affiliations aren’t included in the White House visitor records, and neither is the purpose of the visit. So we hunted for the names of prominent chief executives and included only records that showed a time of arrival or departure at the White House, to eliminate meetings that were planned but never ended up taking place. We also checked with company sources to ask why the meeting took place and what it may have accomplished. Most companies wouldn’t comment, but we included company responses below where they included useful information. Here are 13 prominent CEOs we found in the 2014 White House visitor logs, arranged by the size of the company:
Rex Tillerson, CEO, Exxon Mobil (XOM)
Date of visit: March 12, 2014
Met with: Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council
Tillerson's political donations go almost exclusively to Republicans, yet Exxon, America’s second-largest company after Walmart (WMT), has a stake in many policy matters under consideration at the White House, including environmental regulations, oil-export restrictions and foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Big Oil had a notable presence at the White House last year, even though many in the industry view the Obama administration as unfriendly. John Watson, CEO of Chevron (CVX), met with Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, on Jan. 24, 2014. And Gary Heminger, CEO of Marathon Petroleum (MPC), met twice with Dan Utech, a White House energy official: once on Jan. 30 and again on May 22.
Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors (GM)
Date of visit: Jan. 28, 2014
Met with: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
Barra, who became GM’s first female CEO in January of last year, was a guest of the Obamas at the State of the Union address on January 28. The festivities apparently began at the White House. This was about 10 days before the huge GM safety scandal involving millions of recalls and at least 51 deaths erupted.
Mark Fields, CEO, Ford Motor Co. (F)
Date of visit: Nov. 21, 2014
Met with: John Podesta, senior counselor to the president (who has since left to help run Hillary Clinton’s presumed presidential campaign)
Like GM, Ford would like the government to loosen mileage requirements, and it would also like to have a role shaping new auto-safety rules, expected to be tightened in the aftermath of the 2014 GM recalls. Fields also loves to tell anybody who will listen how awesome the new F-150 pickup is.
Randall Stephenson CEO, AT&T (T)
Stephenson visited the White House at least three times—on Jan. 15, May 1 and Nov. 3.
One of his meetings was with Michael Daniel, who handles cybersecurity issues for the White House. As a huge phone and Internet service provider, AT&T has a direct interest in government eavesdropping policies and the electronic surveillance activities of both foreign and domestic spy agencies. Stephenson also met with officials in Valerie Jarrett’s office, and was part of a group meeting the president and first lady.
Larry Merlo, CEO, CVS Caremark (CVS)
On March 18, Merlo met with Sylvia Burwell, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget (and has since become Secretary of Health and Human Services). On Sept. 16, Merlo returned to the White House and met with Shaun Donovan, who replaced Burwell at OMB.
As the nation’s biggest pharmacy chain, CVS has a lot at stake in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which extends prescription drug coverage to millions of new patients.
Jamie Dimon, CEO, J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM)
Date of visit: March 7
Met with: Jeff Zients
Dimon, once known as “Obama’s favorite banker,” used to be a frequent White House guest. But his relationship with the Obama administration soured after some public missteps by J.P. Morgan, costly litigation between the bank and the government, and complaints by Dimon that Washington is conducting a “constant attack on business.”
George Paz, CEO, Express Scripts (ESRX)
Date of visit: March 19
Met with: Jason Furman
Express Scripts, which manages prescription drug benefits for millions of Americans, is another healthcare company directly affected by Obamacare. “We appreciated the opportunity to share our perspective on healthcare broadly and the pharmacy benefit landscape specifically,” a company spokesperson said of Paz’s White House visit.
Virginia Rometty, CEO, IBM (IBM)
Rometty was at the White House at least twice last year: on March 12 for an unspecified event and on June 19 for a meeting of the President’s Export Council, which she’s a member of. Obama chaired the meeting.
John Stumpf, CEO, Wells Fargo (WFC)
Date of visit: July 15
Met with: Jeff Zients
Like its Wall Street colleagues, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo closely follows the implementation of Dodd-Frank banking regulations and many other ways Washington oversees the financial sector. Earlier this year, the bank expressed concern about too many subprime auto loans and said it was cutting back on them.
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs (GS)
On March 5, Blankfein participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls, which is chaired by Valerie Jarrett. He was back at the White House around lunchtime on July 8 for a private meeting.
George Soros, Chairman, Soros Fund Management
Date of visit: May 13
Met with: John Podesta
Soros, the legendary hedge-fund billionaire, doesn’t run a public company and has less concern about policy issues than other businesspeople. But as one of the biggest Democratic Party donors, he’d have plenty to chat about with Podesta, a key strategist for prominent Democrats dating to Bill Clinton’s administration. Soros is likely to be one of the biggest contributors to Obama’s possible successor and Podesta's current boss: Hillary Clinton.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.