Garbage man, bartender, lawyer… CFTC commissioner? Meet Mark Wetjen

He’s worked as a garbage man, lawyer and bartender, but despite being called one of the most popular aides in the US Senate, little is known away from Capitol Hill about the man who will likely become the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s newest commissioner.

Anyone that had hopes for revealing insight on Mark Wetjen, Obama’s pick to be the next CFTC commissioner, during this week’s Senate confirmation hearing was probably left somewhat disappointed this week.

During Thursday’s Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Wetjen made the same promises a lot of potential job candidates make.

He promised to work with his colleagues and said he is committed to studying all available information before he made any big decisions. He talked about the value of hard work, respecting other viewpoints and the importance of service.

In essence, it was like any other job interview.

Well, it was like any interview that includes the leader of the US Senate popping in to give a glowing reference.

“He is just a fine young man,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Wetjen’s boss for the past seven years, told the committee as he briefly sat next to Wetjen at the start of the hearing. “I care a great deal about Mark. He is one of those people that you deal with that you really feel like he’s one of your sons.”

Reid called Wetjen one of the most popular staffers on Capitol Hill and Senator Mary Landrieu, a Lousiana Democrat, and the US Chamber of Commerce both submitted letters of recommendation for Wetjen.

Wetjen was not pressed hard by committee members on July 21 and other than some vague responses to questions on the Dodd-Frank rules (he doesn’t want end-users to be hit with unnecessary costs and doesn’t want position limits to impact market liquidity, for example) he gave little insight on his plans at the agency.

He also declined to talk to reporters after the hearing and has not given a media interview since his nomination.

Wetjen may choose to stay relatively unknown, at least until he is confirmed by the Senate, but a biographical sketch made public by the committee Thursday, fills in a few gaps of who Wetjen is and how he came to be Commissioner Michal Dunn’s likely successor at the CFTC.

Wetjen, 37, was born in Dubuque, Iowa. His wife works in sales for a pharmaceutical company and the couple have a young son.

During his hearing he talked about helping his grandfather with chores on a family farm near Williamsburg, Iowa. He worked as a garbage man for the city of Dubuque the summer after he graduated from Creighton University and then attended the University of Iowa Law School that fall. During the summer after his first year of law school, he took his first Capitol Hill gig as a summer intern for Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican. He was a bartender his second year of law school and then intern for District Court Judge John Jarvey during his third year.

After graduating law school, he worked as a summer associate for Duncan, Green, Brown and Langeness, a Des Moines law firm, worked as an intern for the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois for a few months and then was hired as an associate with Post Kirby Noonan & Sweat, a firm headquartered in San Diego and now known as Kirby Noonan Lance & Hodge.

He then worked as an associate for Sherman & Howard, working as bond counsel to Nevada local governments, and from September 2002 to October 2004 he was an associate with Lionel Sawyer & Collins, which claims to be the largest private law firm in Nevada. His clients included energy firms, according to the bio.

The bio also lists two articles Wetjen he has written, but neither a piece he wrote for Reno Magazine in 2004 on creative professionals, or a piece on the tech economy for the Nevada Business Journal in 2003, deal with the work he could be doing with the CFTC.

In October 2004, he took a job as Reid’s counsel and senior policy advisor, a job he’s held ever since.

“He was a lawyer doing extremely well, very productive, making good money,” Reid said July 21. “But Mark Wetjen has always wanted to be in some form of public service. The reason his name was sent forward [to be a CFTC commissioner] was not because I went out and hustled a job for Mark Wetjen, it came about as a result of everyone, Democrats and Republicans…realizing how good he is.”

The committee plans to vote on Wetjen’s nomination by early August. He will have to be confirmed by a full Senate vote.

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