Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a member of the Senate Banking Committee. She promised during her campaign last fall to hold the banks accountable and to be a voice for the American consumer. Over the past few weeks she has done just that. Wall Street reformers cheered as she confronted bank regulators over “too big to fail banks” becoming “too big to trial”:
Then they cheered again when she asked, “How many billions of dollars does one have to launder to drug lords until a company gets shut down?” This related to HSBC’s laundering of drug money:
She lashed out at the GOP’s continued delay of Richard Cordray’s confirmation to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), saying, “The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks than regular people.”:
She’s tough. The regulators and Senate Republicans probably wish now that they had not worked so diligently to block her nomination to head the CFPB. Warren oversaw TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program) and has been very blunt about the structural changes and regulations necessary to safeguard American taxpayers from ever again having to bailout financial institutions. She advocates for the enforcement of regulations and transparency. Washington is awash in money, from the influence of high-paid lobbyists (and not all lobbyists are created equal) to campaign contributions.
In March of 2011, I participated in an EMILY’s List Political Opportunity Program to explore the requirements to run for political office. It was fascinating learning how to prepare for and manage a winning campaign. One bit of information that was striking is that candidates must be willing to fundraise and cannot be shy about asking for money.
A shocking fact is that once in office—this is for federal-level congressional and senate seats, although raising money is part of the process at any level—legislators spend anywhere from 30-70% of their week with donors, via phone or in meetings, asking for dollars. Those most adept at raising campaign funds are the ones the parties support. (No political party is going to put their weight behind a loser who can’t raise money.)
On his show Hardball, Chris Matthews recently revealed the average amount of campaign contributions it took to win a seat in Congress in 2012:
Senate –$10,476,451 (Candidate Warren hauled in the most at $42,506,349* to defeat Senator Scott Brown)
House of Representatives –$1,689,580
Democrats are not immune from the lure of corporate money to finance their campaigns either—it’s how the game is played. When both parties are participants in the money game, who in their right mind is willing to bite the hand that feeds them?
For example, New York’s senators, both Democrats, are recipients of Wall Street largesse, which is to be expected since New York City is the financial capital of the world.
Figures for 2007-2012 from OpenSecrets.org show:
Chuck Schumer – To win in 2010, Campaign Committee and PAC contrinutions equaled $19.5 million. The top three donor industries: Securities & Investments, Lawyers & Law Firms, and Real Estate
Kirsten Gillibrand – To win in 2012, Campaign Committee and PAC contributions equaled $15.7 million. The top three donor industries: Lawyers & Law Firms, Securities & Investments, and Real Estate
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United in 2010 there was an almost immediate, massive proliferation of Super Pacs, many sprouting offshoots claiming to be 501(c)(4) organizations. The result was unlimited donations and lack of transparency. These are two real threats to our democracy, especially when Americans have no idea who it is financing campaigns and what influence they may wield once a candidate is in office. A $100,000 donation will give someone access to a policymaker that a $100 donor would never be granted.
Over the coming weeks, my focus will be on money and how it has and continues to influence legislators. Super Pacs, 501(c)(4) organizations, the revolving door, and campaign finance will all be examined in depth—what they are, how they have been used and abused, and solutions that have been proposed to make sure all citizens have a voice, not only the wealthiest among us.
Yes, it will be extremely difficult to enact real financial reform—legislators influenced by financial lobbyists have been chipping away at Dodd-Frank since President Obama signed it into law July 21, 2010. Reform is even harder now than in the past because of the Citizens United ruling, but it’s not impossible. Today, Wall Street is a cash cow for legislators on both sides of the aisle. Until money is no longer a major factor in campaigns, little will change. We need more senators like Elizabeth Warren who are willing to fight for the American people and not be afraid to take on the financial elite.
* Senator Warren’s top three industries for campaign dollars were from: Retired, Lawyers/Law Firms, and Women’s Issues. She had no Super PAC money, but PAC contributions totaled $977,102.
Originally posted at The Feisty Liberal