POLITICS
04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

MoveOn Hits Obama For Bonus Remarks, Dem Senator Announces Bank Bonus Tax

MoveOn.org is letting President Obama know that it does begrudge the multimillion-dollar bonuses being paid to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, both of whose banks were bailed out by the American taxpayer.

The liberal advocacy group urged its members Thursday to call the White House to let the president know that they object to his cozy relationship with Wall Street bankers ("I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen," Obama said in the interview that raised eyebrows when it was released Thursday. "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.")

Obama told Bloomberg News that he is just as shocked by banker bonuses as he is by salaries paid to professional athletes, noting that "there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don't get to the World Series either, so I'm shocked by that as well."

Citing athletic salaries is part of the standard rhetoric used by conservatives and the super-wealthy to justify exorbitant salaries. As surprising as it was to hear the rhetoric from Obama, MoveOn.org noted that there's a major difference between bankers and well-paid athletes: the bankers were bailed out with taxpayer dollars after they nearly brought the global financial system to the ground.

"There's one big problem: Every cent of bonus money Goldman Sachs has paid out in the last year belongs to taxpayers. That's because of huge taxpayer supports -- including $12.9 billion of bailout money funneled directly to Goldman through AIG -- none of which they have any intention of paying back," MoveOn writes in an email being sent to members Friday. "The fact is, the American people do begrudge wealth when it's taken directly out of their pockets. And 'savvy' doesn't accurately describe a businessman who brought the world economy to the edge of collapse."

UPDATE:

On the legislative front, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will announce today the details of a new bill to tax bonuses "given to executives at firms that received financial help from U.S. taxpayers and use the revenues to help small businesses create jobs." In an email, Brown noted that AIG, which received $182 billion in government assistance, paid out more than $100 million in bonuses last week.

Here is the email that MoveOn will send to its members on Friday:

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: Daniel Mintz, MoveOn.org Political Action
Date: Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 11:00 AM
Subject: Tell President Obama: Huge bonuses aren't okay

Dear MoveOn member,

In an interview this week, President Obama was asked about Goldman Sachs' CEO giving himself a $9 million bonus. He called the CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, a "savvy" businessman and said the American people don't begrudge him his wealth.1

There's one big problem: Every cent of bonus money Goldman Sachs has paid out in the last year belongs to taxpayers.2 That's because of huge taxpayer supports--including $12.9 billion of bailout money funneled directly to Goldman through AIG--none of which they have any intention of paying back.3

The fact is, the American people do begrudge wealth when it's taken directly out of their pockets. And "savvy" doesn't accurately describe a businessman who brought the world economy to the edge of collapse.

Can you call the White House right now and let the president know that you're outraged that big banks have returned to business as usual while the rest of the country suffers? Tell him that appearing close to Wall Street is no way to gain voters' trust that he's on their side.

The White House
202-456-1111

Then click here to let us know how it went:

http://pol.moveon.org/call?cp_id=1265&tg=638&t=1

In the past, the president has used language that's much more in touch with how most Americans see Wall Street's outsized bonuses, calling them "obscene" and "shameful."4 And he supported a 90% tax on last year's AIG bonuses.5 That's why this latest interview, where he compared the bankers who destroyed our economy to highly-paid baseball players, was so discouraging.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made clear why the president's analogy makes no sense, and why it's so troubling:

To my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn't brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses.

And more specifically, not only has the financial industry has been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability.6

[The president] said some things about making compensation better tied to results--but it was framed purely in terms of stockholder interests, with no mention, again, of the damage bankers have done and the public support they still require.7

Can you call the White House right now to let the president know how Wall Street's bonuses are seen on Main Street? Tell him that you want him to stand up to bankers who think they're entitled to billions of taxpayer dollars with no accountability.

The White House
202-456-1111

Then click here to let us know how it went:

http://pol.moveon.org/call?cp_id=1265&tg=638&t=2

Thanks for all you do.

-Daniel, Peter, Kat, Ilyse, and the rest of the team

Sources:

1. "What Obama Said About Those Bonuses," The Washington Post, February 10, 2010
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=86435&t=4

2. "Strong Year for Goldman, as It Trims Bonus Pool," The New York Times, January 21, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/business/22goldman.html

3. "Testy Conflict With Goldman Helped Push A.I.G. to Edge," The New York Times, February 6, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/business/07goldman.html

4. "White House Moves Swiftly To Stem Fallout Of Obama Interview," The Huffington Post, February 10, 2010
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=86436&t=5

5. "Obama Praises Bonus Tax, Looks Forward To Getting Final Bill," Talking Points Memo, March 19, 2009
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=86438&t=6

6. "Clueless," The New York Times, February 10, 2010
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/clueless/

7. "Wall Street Damage Control," The New York Times, February 10, 2010
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=86437&t=7