‘Two-step’ Tester Dances with Lobbyists over Wall Street FinReg


It seems that Montana’s junior Senator and Banking Committee member, Jon Tester, has been resorting to some two-stepping to add to his double-speak with his newest routine with Wall Street Lobbyists. Despite Jon’s contentions that he is doing what is best for his Montana constituents, it seems that a series of votes on the Financial Regulation package that just cleared the Senate speak volumes about his true intentions: preserving Wall Street campaign contributions.

Over at Left in the West, an OpEd written by “The Office of Sen. Jon Tester,” and published by the Huffington Post, seems to be designed to head off criticism of the Senator’s latest votes:

“The U.S. Senate made history on May 20. We passed a powerful bill that finally holds Wall Street accountable. It finally cleans up the schemes and abuses that nearly brought our entire economy to its knees.

Most importantly, the Wall Street reform bill once and for all ends taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks and investment firms. It finally gets rid of the notion that one private company can somehow be ‘too big to fail.'”

Well, aside from the fact that our economy is still on its knees, having neatly “assumed the position” in many instances (Goldman and BP, I’m looking at you), once again our faux populist Senator would have us believe he’s doing the people’s business. As I wrote in my article a few weeks ago about Tester’s vote against the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which would have capped the size of big banks, relative to GDP, it seems that Jon’s actions spoke much louder than his words:

“The Brown-Kaufman amendment was the one strong point of regulation that would cut to the heart of why Wall Street has become immune to the will of the people. Crony capitalism, and corrupt corporatism are the guiding forces in Washington D.C. these days. It is no longer the will of the people–or the best intentions of once-innocent politicians–that governs our nation. It is corporate money and the influence it buys direct from Wall Street that has taken a stranglehold on our political and economic system.”

Well, after Tester’s latest attempt at foofaraw with his OpEd, I decided to take a look at what else is going on in the Senator’s world. It seems that he not only voted against Brown-Kaufman, he voted against Sen. Durbin’s bank card transaction fee amendment, which would have capped the fees we pay when we use our debit cards at the checkout counter. Those fees amount to a $19.71 billion dollar industry, with 80% being paid back to the issuing banks as profit. So your bank is profiting on you to the tune of 1.63% on each transaction. Which is more than your bank paid you for interest for a whole year of holding onto your money.

I guess Jon is OK with this. A little extra goodness for Wall Street to pay its lobbyists… so they can hold parties for, and give contributions to, senators who vote with them. Nothing like preserving almost $16 billion in profits for the big banks, after the regs were excluded from all the small community banks that Tester seemed to be protecting.

Senator Durbin designed this amendment to help small businesses and consumers–businesses because they lose 1.63% on each transaction they process with debit cards, and consumers, because those costs are taken directly out of their bank account and given to banks as a profit:

By early in the week Mr. Durbin’s staff was confident that a majority of senators would support the measure, particularly after he made changes to limit the impact on small banks, a powerful constituency that many senators are loath to cross.

The largest change limits the new price controls to cards issued only by the very largest banks, those with at least $10 billion in assets. As a result, the pricing controls will affect only about 65 percent of debit card transactions, staff members said.”

So Durbin tweaked the bill to attract senators who were worried by its impact on small banks, like Senator Tester claimed in a press release explaining why he voted against the Durbin amendment:

“My vote against this amendment was a vote to preserve the critical role community banks have in strengthening America’s small businesses and rural communities.

My vote against this amendment was a vote for Montana consumers, families, small businesses, farmers and ranchers and all who depend on their community banks. I stand with folks on Main Street as we reform Wall Street.”

I guess this is pretty much the definition of double-speak.

Now let’s get on with the two-step. It seems that on March 16th, our good Senator, who campaigned as a man of ethics and transparency, was the recipient of a “Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Reception” put on by a host of lobbyists–including bankers and Wall Street insiders. Now that couldn’t have had anything to do with any of his votes and attempts to sidestep any backlash from them, would it?

As the NY Times put it:

“And this was not an easy vote. Lobbyists for the wounded but formidable banking industry made clear to some senators that this decision would affect future campaign donations, according to people who participated in those conversations.”

Well, let’s just see who some of those lobbyists were that put on the party for Jon. According to the Sunlight Foundation:

“the fundraisers ranged from a “pre-St.Patrick’s Day” reception for Banking Committee member Jon Tester, D-Mont., on March 16 that asked for $100 to $1,000 in contributions, to a breakfast for Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, of the Agriculture Committee on March 10 that asked for contributions ranging from $500 to $2,000…

Tester’s fundraiser was hosted by 28 people, at least two of whom have disclosed lobbying on financial reform this year: Mitchell Feuer who represents Goldman Sachs, the Citigroup Management Corporation, Barclays PLC, Genworth Financial, Visa U.S.A., the Appraisal Institute, FX Alliance LLC, the Farm Credit Council and the LCH.Clearnet Group, and Thompson Reuters; and Shannon Finley who represents the Edison Electric Institute, Rent A Center and the Home Depot…

In addition to raising money for the beneficiaries, the lobbyists hosting the events also had a chance for face time with other influential lawmakers.”

Face time. Yeah… Just whose face was where??? And as I wrote over at LitW yesterday:

“Worse, he’s turned into a poser

At least that’s what this sort of PR over FinReg shows me. He thinks his constituents are too stupid to understand finance and its regulation, and he can speak out both sides of his mouth. All the while pocketing Wall Street lobbyist money.

So now that he’s bought and paid for by Wall Street lobbyists, they held a big “Pre-St. Patrick’s Day” party for him in his honor a while back. Look over the names of the lobbyists who put it on, and you’ll get the message. Here’s a sample:

Mitchell Feuer of the Rich Feuer Group. Mitchell lists Goldman Sachs and Citigroup among his Wall street clientele.

Niles Godes: lobbyist for Sallie Mae

Shannon Finley: Lobbyist fot The Americans Bankers Association

And there’s more. But I’m headed to the (real) “Farmer’s” market. A dirt farmer no longer, that Tester fella. He’s got real dirt on his hands now with his new circle of partying friends.

Sad. So sad. Another one bites the dust. No wonder he didn’t vote for Brown-Kaufman. Doing damage control for his new Wall Street buddies.

Signed, sealed, and delivered. ‘Two-step’ Tester.

  1. klemz

    Compelling post. 27 Dems voted against Kaufman-Brown. Maybe another AIG situation will change the ranks (probably not).

  2. Big Swede

    I offer the parley between Josey Wales and Ten Bears:

    “It is sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No ‘signed paper’ can hold the iron; it must come from men”

  3. zat u gov

    Jon’s a straight up guy who has represented his state well. But I see the Bloviator’s campaign has started.

    • “Well done, young tester”
      Says max, shaolin monk of K street corruption.

      “So long jon” say MT’s voters in 2011.
      Don’t bother mailing any election paraphenalia to me anymore mr. Tester. I won’t be helping this time.

    • JC

      Um, I’d say that what I reported on indicates that Tester is anything but a “straight up guy” anymore. It may have taken a few years, but the lobbyists have gotten to him. And they have the votes to show for it.

      As to Schweitzer, I don’t know if he would have fared any better. Any politician who wants to take on Tester in ’12 is going to have to show a little more courage in the face of Wall Street money. Maybe it isn’t possible. Maybe crony capitalism has a death grip on our politics.

  4. Matthew Koehler

    Here’s what the Senate’s real progressives are saying…

    SNIP @ http://www.lifeandhealthinsurancenews.com/News/2010/5/Pages/S-3217-Becomes-HR-4173-Passes-In-Senate.aspx

    “The Democrats who voted against the bill were Maria Cantwell of Washington and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin [two of the most progressive members of the US Senate]. Cantwell and Feingold say the final version of the bill would do too little to prevent the kind of financial crisis that hit the world in September 2008.”

    Feingold Statement on the Financial Regulatory Reform Bill

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    “The bill does not eliminate the risk to our economy posed by ‘too big to fail’ financial firms, nor does it restore the proven safeguards established after the Great Depression, which separated Main Street banks from big Wall Street firms and are essential to preventing another economic meltdown. The recent financial crisis triggered the nation’s worst recession since the Great Depression. The bill should have included reforms to prevent another such crisis. Regrettably, it did not.”

    Feingold’s Record of Standing Up to Wall Street

    Feingold has consistently fought to protect Wisconsinites from the recklessness of Wall Street. For the last thirty years, Presidents and members of Congress from both parties have given in to Wall Street lobbyists, paving the way for the creation of massive Wall Street entities and removing essential protections for our economy. Time and again, Feingold has opposed efforts to weaken those critical safeguards. That has been true on the financial regulation bill in the Senate, and throughout his time in the U.S. Senate and the Wisconsin State Senate.

    A Strong Record, a Leading Voice

    * Feingold voted against the Wall Street bailout, in large part because it failed to rein in Wall Street sufficiently and prevent another economic meltdown.

    * Feingold is one of only eight senators who opposed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which tore down the protective firewalls between commercial banking and Wall Street investment firms. That effort undid the Glass-Steagall Act, banking reforms established in the wake of the Great Depression.

    * Feingold is one of four senators who opposed the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Act of 1994, which accelerated the concentration of financial assets, and the creation of “too big to fail” firms.

    * Feingold was Chair of the Wisconsin State Senate Banking Committee, where, among other efforts, he fought against enactment of the interstate banking law. That law resulted in the concentration of financial assets and in most larger Wisconsin banks being bought up by out-of-state banks.

    Working for Real Reform in the Financial Regulation Debate

    Feingold cosponsored a number of key amendments to ensure that banks are no longer too big to fail, and that depression-era reforms to create a firewall between Wall Street and Main Street are restored, among other critical issues. None of these amendments were included in the final bill, which is why it failed Feingold’s test for real reform. Amendments Feingold cosponsored included:

    * Cantwell-McCain-Feingold amendment to restore the Glass-Steagall firewall between Wall Street and Main Street
    * Senator Dorgan’s “too big to fail” amendment, which requires that no financial entity be permitted to become so large that its failure threatens the financial stability of the U.S.
    * Brown-Kaufman amendment proposing strict limits on the size of financial institutions
    * Dorgan amendment to ban so-called naked credit default swaps, speculative bets that played a role in the economic crisis
    * Merkley-Levin amendment to prohibit any bank with government insured deposits from engaging in high-risk finance, like investing in hedge funds or private equity funds

  5. JC, I’m still in the process of reading the bill as passed, but so far it looks like Tester voted for a bill that does what he claimed it does. (Except in the unsupported opinion of Saint Feingold, that is.) It looks every bit like you’re mad at Tester not for what he’s done, but for what he didn’t do that *you* wanted him to do. In doing so, you’ve set up the simple opposition of Wall Street v. The average Montana voter, with lobbyists always carrying undeniable and incurable cooties to infect our elected representatives. See the problem with that is that you haven’t said word one about what the average Montana voter thinks. It strikes me that that’s a problem.

    So, allow me a simple question here. What is it that you want? A concrete assurance that this meltdown will never happen again (na-gon-hap’n), or punishment for the entities that you hold responsible for it happening in the first place?

    • i would settle for a senator who simply refuses money from lobbyists for shameless thieves like goldman sachs.

      or is that not gon hap’n either?

      cossin’ iffen it ain’t gon hap’n neither, then we have no other evidence other than to assume that tester is as corrupt as the worst of them.

    • JC

      “What is it that you want?”

      Simple illumination of a chain of events.

      “so far it looks like Tester voted for a bill that does what he claimed it does.”

      Tester claims the bill ends “to big to fail.’ Many other people think without Brown-Kaufman that it does not. I agree with that assessment.

      Tester made the claim that he voted against the Durbin amendment because he was protecting community banks. Durbin addressed those concerns, but Tester voted against it, anyways.

      Tester made many statements about being above lobbyist “coercion.” Having a fund raiser put on by a bunch of Wall Street lobbyists right before key votes comes up, in my mind, makes Tester no better any better than any other run-of-the-mill politician. At best it was ill-advised. At worst, it appears to be legalized corruption.

      Just my 2 cents. Your mileage may vary depending on how you want to hold your politicians accountable.

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