1960 - 2019
CARING & AUTHENTIC
Bart Chilton was an author, financier, politician, policy writer, commentator, speaker, and consultant. He was known for his individualistic approach to financial regulation, his myriad appearances, speeches, and frequent opinion editorials. Bart regularly cohosted and appeared on business television programs. His creative and policy-driven speeches have received wide acclaim.
CFTC Commissioner Bart Hamilton Chilton was born on May 1, 1960, and grew up in Ogden Dunes, IN. He started working a year after high school at Inland Steel in East Chicago, before attending Purdue University. His leadership skills emerged early as President of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. It was at Purdue and in Fort Wayne that he caught the political bug. Bart went to work for local Democrat candidates, deemed underdogs, who were extremely challenged by the lack of financial support from the National Democratic Party. By the winter of 1983-1984, Bart volunteered with the Mondale for President campaign, traveling from New Hampshire and Iowa to Oklahoma as a field organizer and ultimately landing back near his home base in Chicago, where he met his wife, Sherry Daggett Chilton. Sherry was working in the collar counties as a field organizer for then Rep. Paul Simon (D-IL).
They had spoken once on the telephone in August soon after Bart arrived, but it wasn’t until the night of the infamous Bush-Ferraro Vice Presidential Debate that the two locked eyes and their lives were intertwined as not only political and policy partners, but also as soulmates.
After November, Sherry was asked by Senator-elect Paul Simon to go to Washington to serve on his Senate staff. Bart, with several offers from Chicago, Cook County and Louisville in hand, dismissed these and opted instead to assist freshman Congressman Terry Bruce from Champaign-Urbana to set up his Washington, DC office.
Bart quickly established himself as a progressive, effective legislative correspondent, assistant, and director. He worked on issues ranging from science, space technology, energy, environment, foreign affairs, budget, agriculture and nutrition. During these times, Bart finely honed his organizing and communication skills establishing a network of colleagues from both sides of the aisle to whom he always extended respect and courtesy, regardless of their positions. In the House, election cycles catapulted him to the offices of Reps. Jim Jontz-IN, Sander Levin-MI, Earl Pomeroy-ND and Jill Long (IN). With each, he was the ultimate colleague and public servant, never forgetting from whence he came, his days in the Indiana coke furnaces with the blue collar workers, who, like he, drove home each afternoon covered in the soot of the mills.
Bart’s interests were many and varied. He was a sailor, who enjoyed over a decade of cruising Chesapeake Bay, exploring regional history, savoring blue crabs with a beer or two, navigating the storms as well as the irons, finding hurricane and gunk holes into which he could safely drop anchor with his family and friends aboard the 25 foot “fiberglass tent” he christened “Recess”. When the young couple could finally afford an inflatable raft to enable their English Springer spaniel, Captain Gulliver, to accompany them and their young daughter Erin, he named the dinghy “Sine Die, one of his innumerable playful and creative engagements with the art of words and poetry.
Golf was a passion he developed early in life and shared enthusiastically with friends, family and strangers alike. He enjoyed an eidetic imagery, capable of remembering every shot on every hole played anywhere in the world countless times. If asked, he was also able to recount every shot of his playing partner. One of his greatest joys in recent years was mentoring his grandsons, inspiring in them a love for the game, the rules, mental focus, enthusiasm and skills that will offer them a lifetime of recreation, personal challenge and accomplishment. In the final weeks of his life, in the wee hours of sleepless mornings, he was on a 12th or 14th hole, perhaps on a teebox waiting to hit, or standing on a green eyeing a long putt. He discussed golf and wrote his TV show in his sleep.
Bart loved music: 80s rock, 70s rock, a bit of symphony here and there, and a little Rat Pack from time to time. He played the piano, guitar and harmonica, which he taught grandson to play, convertible top down, Beatles “Love Me Do” blaring, Connor doing a John Lennon riff, and Grandpa beaming along the GW Parkway or along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. With Connor’s mother, Erin, it was Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler, or Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, maybe some Tom Petty, Van Halen, Genesis, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, Stones, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, or Fleetwood Mac thrown in.
He had a natural ear for music, sitting down at the piano and picking out note by note a Wyndam Hill or Mozart piece until he was playing it seamlessly. His abundant knowledge of and joy from music overflowed into his offices, public remarks, speeches and media interviews. A scan of his public remarks listed on the CFTC website reads like a playlist of the music lover and poet that he was.
Bart was also an avid tennis player as was his father. He was a runner who loved circling the mall, or taking on a beach in Miami, Pensacola, the Virgin Islands where he and Sherry married, or the Caymans. He was always in motion, enjoying each person, each moment.
He was kinetic, and his enthusiasm infectious. He loved pranks, storytelling so refined that he became quite adept at jocular play with unsuspecting folks. His pranks are of legend.
Bart’s tremendous creativity, intellect, grace and integrity were called upon and invigorated over the 35 years he dedicated to public service in the US Senate, hammering out a bipartisan Farm Bill alongside Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle; as Deputy Chief of Staff to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman in the Clinton Administration, helping to shepherd everything from Food and Nutrition to National Forest Service wildfire management, to Rural Utilities and Electric, securing grants for rural America, helping to extend much needed water, infrastructure, telecommunications and health care into underserved areas, assisting minority and small farmers, as always serving as a voice for those whose voices can more readily be squelched by powerful elite and well-financed lobbying efforts. He was a lifelong advocate who wielded government as a constructive tool for the people and generously shared with others his compass, chart and sextant to successfully develop and execute strategies for effecting progressive change. It is evident in much of his private consulting work with small environmental and technology startups, but also with his time with the National Farmers Union, Farm Credit Administration and DLA Piper.
When a seat became available at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, he was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate. There he quickly developed the moniker of “not your grandfather’s regulator”, bringing with him the courtesy and discipline of responding to all correspondence, every email and text sent to him. He never used a robo mail process, rather whether it was from the beach, a plane, or on the regional Amtrak commuting to and from New York, he texted on his Blackberry personal responses to each and every request. When allegations were made of silver market manipulation, he pursued them insisting on an investigation over objections. He used implementation of the Dodd-Frank legislation to push for fairer, more transparent markets. His myriad of remarks in Commission hearings speak to his passion, policies and prowess in using the platform that he considered an honor and privilege. While his outspoken positions as an independent Commissioner were not always in line with those of the Obama Administration, he continued to fight for what he believed in, working with the regulated exchanges, consumers and colleagues for an open but fair market perspective. His book, Ponzimonium: How Con Artists are Ripping Off America, was the first written and published by a sitting CFTC Commissioner and spoke to the need of consumer education and protection in advance of the creation of the Consumer Financial Protections Board.
He enjoyed the opportunity to communicate through national and international media outlets, and became a regular on CNBC’s Squawk Box, CNN, CCN, NPR, and MSN’s The Ed Schultz Show. It was in those segments with Ed, bound by a shared commitment to blue collar workers, farmers and average consumers, speaking of oil prices, public policy and politics, that the opportunity for Bart to host his own financial news show was born. When Ed left MSN for RT, he made a compelling argument to Bart that there was no time in his own professional career when the imperative for truth in media, transparency, and non-corporate, ad-financed media was more vital. After meeting the RT team, and great deliberation he chose a huge career shift, from guest to host, from partisan policy advocate to balanced business journalist.
With RT America, the “Commish” hit his stride. He loved every day, the unfettered independence to pick his stories, write his segments, and select guests who could most ably help communicate the stories behind the events in a bipartisan, unvarnished way. He eagerly took on the steep learning curve of a new career, essentially, leveraging the keen knowledge and insights acquired in 30 years of public service. In one year, he led the Boom Bust to a new level, becoming one of the most popular programs on the network. Bart believed strongly in the power of education, courtesy, humor, celebration and a kind word. He lived simply and humbly, worked hard and cheerfully, extended respect and dignity to all whom he met.