We’ve noticed some floundering in the past few months by conservative lawmakers opposing the new Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. So, as we approach mid-year, we thought we’d offer a few helpful hints on how better to raise campaign contributions from the banking lobby.
Sen. Richard Shelby and Rep. Spencer Bachus: You should not transparently recite the lines fed to you by the banking industry. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Bachus, you told the Birmingham News: “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.” We’ve got some learning to do. You may sincerely believe this, but let’s understand the play. The bad guys are the reckless bankers who trashed the economy. The victims are the unemployed in your Birmingham-centered district and the Auburn and Alabama University students who are facing a grim employment outlook because reckless bankers took down the economy. The good guys are the people trying to reform the system to better protect regular Americans from Wall Street machinations
Chief among the good guys is actually a woman. Her name is Elizabeth Warren. We know you know her, because you cannot seem to say enough bad things about her. But remember the play—who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Senate banking committee ranking Republican Sen. Shelby: You shouldn’t have forced 43 colleagues to co-sign a letter to President Obama threatening to stop any nomination—namely Warren’s—to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless its powers are emasculated.
House oversight subcommittee chairman Patrick McHenry: You really shouldn’t have called Ms. Warren a liar—twice—at the hearing May 24. You claimed she lied about the extent of her help combatting mortgage fraud. First, it’s absurd to chastise someone for doing their job too well. (You congratulate them for that; give them a raise.) But second, and more importantly, lying to Congress, called perjury, is a felony. If you believe that, you’re obliged to inform federal enforcement agents of the felony. If you’re not willing to do that, then you really must apologize. If she weren’t a public figure, she could sue you for slander, since you called her a liar on television and are not protected under the Speech or Debate clause. (Sen. William Proxmire, my former boss, got nailed in Hutchinson v. Proxmire for that transgression when he handed out one of his Golden Fleece awards. While in the Proxmire file, you could also look up USA v. Dean. Deborah Gore Dean was sentenced to home confinement for perjury before Proxmire’s Senate banking committee.)
Legislators, avoid overt conflicts of interest! House Financial Services financial institutions subcommittee chair Rep. Shelley Moore Capito: You must make the world know your husband works for Wells Fargo. We’ve started a “Capito Clock” here at Public Citizen. It’s now at 46 days. That’s the time elapsed since we discovered that your husband works for the nation’s fourth largest bank, and asked you to make this connection conspicuous—on your website, at hearings, etc. Let’s be blunt: Wells Fargo’s No. 1 legislative priority, as outlined by the Wells Fargo Chairman in his letter to shareholders, is to restore the lucrative swipe fee banks charge when consumers use debit cards. You introduced that bill—HR 1081— in the House. You’ve recruited 96 co-sponsors. Do they all know your husband works for Wells Fargo? We doubt it, because we’ve asked a few members of Congress and they were surprised when we told them. And if you don’t think that his employer is of relevant interest, as your banking staffer told us, everyone we inform of the Wells Fargo connection counters that it most certainly is.
To bank lobbyists: We understand you loathe Dodd-Frank, and especially the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is assigned to combat “unfair, deceptive and abusive” practices. We sincerely hope that this isn’t the central value proposition of your industry, as Rep. Barney Frank has suggested. Such practices will doom your employers to the permanent pits of American public opinion, where your industry now wallows. The Gallup Poll tracks the “ratings and ethics of bankers,” still shows the industry at 19%. Let Dodd-Frank be implemented by the rule-makers as strongly as possible so we won’t confront another economy-crippling financial crash.
Looking forward, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa aims to rescue Rep. McHenry with an all-day grilling of Ms. Warren. Banking lobbyists, help Chairman Issa prepare. Ms. Warren is an Oklahoma soccer mom and Harvard Law School professor. She’s trained some of best attorneys in the nation. And as subcommittee Chair McHenry found out, Ms. Warren occasionally calls on her Harvard Law skills. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times observed, “The denizens of Capitol Hill let out a gasp last week when Elizabeth Warren upended the natural order of things by telling a congressman that his time to question her had run out.” Yes, Lobbyists, do help prepare Chairman Issa.
Again, we hope you accept these helpful hints on public relations. We’d hate to think that the banking industry would need to look elsewhere for strategic places to donate its campaign cash and impact the regulation of its interests.