As the 2016 race for the presidency nears, a recent move by University of California president Janet Napolitano has the potential to inject high-stakes Clintonian politics into the already controversial university system.
At its meeting in San Francisco last week, the university's board of regents signed off on creating the new position of senior vice president of government relations and gave the job to Nelson Peacock, an aide to Napolitano when she ran the Department of Homeland Security under Democratic president Barack Obama.
"In this role, Mr. Peacock will lead all of the University’s government relations activities at all levels of government," according to the agenda of the January 22 regents meeting. The action was approved 13 to 5, with Napolitano among the supporters and governor Jerry Brown voting no.
"He has a proven track record of establishing productive working relationships with senior officials and identifying and implementing solutions to address complex issues," the agenda says.
Peacock, who became a senior advisor to Napolitano last September, will get an annual base salary of $280,000, along with an $8916 car allowance.
"Mr. Peacock received a cash relocation allowance as a condition of his employment with the University and to assist with his relocation from Maryland when he first joined the University in September 2014," the agenda item says.
"He will continue to be eligible to receive the remaining balance of installments: $20,000 in 2015; $20,000 in 2016; and the final installment of $10,000 in 2017."
Prior to signing on with Napolitano in California, Peacock was a vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which he joined in May 2013. The big influence-peddling boutique has a list of clients ranging from Walmart to the United Egg Producers. According to the regents’ agenda, Peacock "provided support to higher education clients with interests in federal education policy and funding opportunities."
At the same time, the agenda item says, Peacock "also served as an unpaid consultant to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation to assist former President Bill Clinton with logistical, political, and media support on domestic and international trips."
Before his Cornerstone gig, Peacock was assistant secretary for legislative affairs under Napolitano when she was Homeland Security secretary. There, records show, he worked closely with Alan Bersin, the former U.S. Attorney here under Bill Clinton and ex–San Diego schools chief who has held a series of Homeland Security positions in the Obama administration since his appointment as Obama's so-called border czar in April 2009.
Documents released last year by the administration in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that Peacock and Bersin met repeatedly on the hot-button immigration topic of "border metrics.”
Due to Bersin’s college friendship with the Clintons and the campaign cash he and his wife Lisa Foster of the wealthy Ratner family have raised for Democrats, Bersin has long been an inside player in Democratic politics.
"Please look out for Alan in San Diego," wrote Bill Clinton aide Karen Skelton to fellow White House political worker Michael Feldman in a June 10, 1998 email released by the Clinton presidential library last year. "He's a POTUS Oxford pal and someone we want to know much better. You can use my name, though that might not help much….”
Like Bersin, Peacock is also personally familiar with Bill Clinton, for whom his mother did campaign work during Clinton’s early political career in Arkansas, according to a September 2011 profile in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
"We knew the Clintons ever since I was a little kid,” Peacock told the Little Rock paper. "I remember him coming to the house with the state trooper. Denver and I would go out and play in the state trooper's car. Obviously, we had no idea that he was ever going to become president.”
Peacock went to the University of Arkansas and then to Georgetown University in Washington for a master’s degree in law. There he worked for Clinton on the side, according to the paper’s account.
"School gave him the flexibility to travel to do advance work for the president when called, as did his first federal appointment as deputy director for intergovernmental affairs at the Justice Department.
“In that role, he coordinated the relationship between Attorney General Janet Reno and law enforcement and other officials at the state and local levels, as well as the interest groups that worked on their behalf."
Besides his ties to the ex-president and his wife, Bersin is closely allied with big-money Hillary Clinton backer Irwin Jacobs.
The billionaire Qualcomm founder and former University of California professor, along with Lisa Foster, also an Obama appointee, is expected to play a major role in the former first lady's putative run for the presidency.
Jacobs himself wields extensive influence in the university system, as witnessed by the free naming rights his company Qualcomm was awarded in 2013 to what is now known as the Qualcomm Institute at UCSD. Along with the well-compensated Peacock, the Bersin and Jacobs team could be shaping up as one of Hillary Clinton's best, if not-so-secret, California political weapons.