The New York Times, deftly avoiding mention of Bernard Madoff, while explaining how Sen. Charles Schumer raked in the campaign dough from Wall Street and championing their agenda:
An exceptional fund raiser — a “jackhammer,” someone who knows him says, for whom “ ‘no’ is the first step to ‘yes,’ ” — Mr. Schumer led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the last four years, raising a record $240 million while increasing donations from Wall Street by 50 percent. That money helped the Democrats gain power in Congress, elevated Mr. Schumer’s standing in his party and increased the industry’s clout in the capital.
But in building support, he has embraced the industry’s free-market, deregulatory agenda more than almost any other Democrat in Congress, even backing some measures now blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.
Other lawmakers took the lead on efforts like deregulating the complicated financial instruments called derivities, which are widely seen as catalysts to the crisis.
But Mr. Schumer, a member of the Banking and Finance Committees, repeatedly took other steps to protect industry players from government oversight and tougher rules, a review of his record shows. Over the years, he has also helped save financial institutions billions of dollars in higher taxes or fees.
He succeeded in limiting efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies, for example, sponsored legislation that cut fees paid by Wall Street firms to finance government oversight, pushed to allow banks to have lower capital reserves and called for the revision of regulations to make corporations’ balance sheets more transparent.
It would have been helpful for voters to have had such hard-hitting pieces before the election, but they are welcome now nonetheless. The larger point should not be lost however.
Whether it was Barney Frank accepting boatloads of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or Schumer taking the money of those he was supposed to be regulating through Congressional oversight, the story is the same. While aghast – just aghast! – at insufficient regulation or that excessive risk-taking, the Democratic leaders of key committees bear enormous responsibility. They failed to do their jobs. And moreover, they made what used to be termed the “appearance of a conflict of interest” quite common place.
Certainly, they weren’t as crass as Blago, but they had a “deal” just as surely as he did. Financial interests fed them millions, they took the money and didn’t make any waves on the regulatory front. When it all came crashing down, George W. Bush could be the convenient scapegoat. Perfect all around, when a compliant media is added to the mix.
So when the Democrats excoriate CEOs, demanding to know how they could do their jobs so badly, the air is thick with hypocrisy. At least the CEOs were paid to further their companies’ interests and, however misguidedly, pursued that goal. Lawmakers were there to do the people’s business, but the deal they had on the side — money for disinterest — was more lucrative.
Never before have we had a better example of the corrosive connection between money and politics. And as the Obama administration sets out to make the government bigger and its role in the economy far greater, you can expect that connection to blossom. After all, so much more will be at stake when the government runs car companies, health care and every construction project as far as the eye can see.