Activists from Occupy Wall Street, the environmental movement and labor unions, along with victims of home foreclosures, have begun massive demonstrations at Bank of America's shareholder meeting in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday morning.
(Above, video from Wednesday's protests)
Occupiers have characterized the event as a test run for activism ahead of September's Democratic National Convention, and expect more than a thousand protesters for a full day of marches and direct-action demonstrations both inside and outside the shareholder meeting. For those gathered, Bank of America has become the quintessential culprit for the Great Recession -- a bailed-out bank with a bad record on foreclosures and the environment.
Inside the Bank of America meeting, disgruntled shareholders -- including Trillium Asset Management, the City of New York and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- will force votes on proposals that would curb the bank's political spending and force it to review its foreclosure practices. Foreclosure victims are hoping to give testimony during the meeting.
Outside the meeting, protesters promise a boisterous slate of events to draw attention to Bank of America's relationship with the federal government, the coal industry and its long record of foreclosure abuse. Occupy Atlanta's Tim Franzen said there are three marches planned, each with its own theme: the bank's environmental record, the housing crisis and corporate accountability issues. The marches will converge into one big protest.
Scroll down to follow the latest developments from Charlotte in the live blog below.
Outside Bank of America Stadium, the crowd is chanting "we'll be back!" -- a possible reference to the fact that President Obama will be giving his speech there at the Democratic National Convention.
Photo of the crowd outside the stadium, courtesy of Michael Premo.
While the official webcast of Bank of America's shareholder meeting was dominated by comments from disgruntled shareholders, preliminary results indicated that all of the shareholder proposals to change the bank's operations were defeated.
Such votes are typically dominated by large institutional investors reluctant to take a controversial stand, since they manage shares on behalf of a diverse set of clients. Nevertheless, many shareholders unhappy with the company's management were denied access. Campaign for America's Future spokeswoman Liz Rose sends along this anecdote:
I just got a call from the Bank of America's shareholder meeting in Charlotte from Richard Eskow, a writer for the Campaign for America's Future. Richard represents 82,000 shares of investor stock of BoA and yet he was turned away with 40 other shareholders just now and he and the others were asked to leave BoA property. Some shareholders who were turned away were elderly.
-- Zach Carter
Moynihan defended the company's operation of subsidiaries in nations identified as international tax havens by saying, "We're a global business," suggesting that Bank of America needs its sub-companies in other nations because that's where the business is.
"I don't think there's a whole lot of Bank of America operations in the Cayman Islands," one disgruntled shareholder responded.
-- Zach Carter
Noting that 19 peer-reviewed scientific studies in the past two years have indicated that mountaintop removal studies causes birth defects, cancer and other deadly ailments, Coal River Mountain Watch president Bob Kincaid took BofA CEO Brian Moynihan to task for continuing to finance companies that engage in mountaintop removal mining.
"You are part of the poisoning of Appalachia and so is every one of your directors and so is every one of your shareholders," Kincaid said. "You are part of the destruction of an entire region of the country."
"Sir, our environmental team will take a look at it. We look at it all the time," Moynihan said. The crowd responded with jeers.
-- Zach Carter
Boston's City Life/Vida Urbana is participating in today's march. Here is a photo of one member submitted by Michael Premo.
Shareholders have good reason to be upset about Bank of America's consumer abuses. Fortune magazine reports on a Wall Street analyst who ranks BofA chief Brian Moynihan as the worst-performing bank CEO in America.
Michael Mayo, a bank analyst at Credit Agricole Securities, recently ranked current bank CEOs by the relative performance of their shares during the time since they took over the banks. Moynihan became the CEO of B of A in early 2010. Since that time the bank's shares have fallen 42%. That puts Moynihan at the bottom of the heap. It's not just the stock market performance. Mayo says there are a number of things that Moynihan has done wrong. One of the biggest was the bank debit card flip-flop, which turned off customers despite B of A eventually deciding under pressure that it wasn't going to charge the fee afterall. What's more Moynihan, like other bank CEO, was slow to stem the problems in its mortgage servicing division, which led to the $25 billion industrywide settlement with state AGs.
The one positive, perhaps, for Moynihan, is that CEOs of other large banks aren't far behind. Shares of Morgan Stanley (MS) are down 39% since James Gorman started as the head of that firm, also in early 2010. Citigroup's shares are down a whopping 89% since Vikram Pandit took over the job as CEO of Citigroup (C). But that includes the heart of the financial crisis, which are not included in Moynihan's or Pandit's figures. The best performing CEO, according to Mayo, was Jim Rohr, who heads up PNC Financial Services Group (PNC). Since taking the helm of the Pittsburgh-based bank in mid-2000, making Rohr the longest service top bank CEO, the banks shares are up 43%.
Inside the shareholder meeting, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan just defended the company's financing of coal and mountaintop removal mining. As HuffPost reported Tuesday:
Environmental groups will be decrying the bank's relationship with the coal industry.
"A human health crisis is exploding in Appalachia and Bank of America lights the fuse every day," said Coal River Mountain Watch president Bob Kincaid. "This bank and its shareholders must confront the brutality of what they do."
Kincaid noted that 3 million to 5 million pounds of explosives are detonated every day in Appalachia in mountaintop removal mining, stripping away rock and soil to expose mineable coal. Scientific research shows that runoff from those activities is poisoning citizens in surrounding areas, with increased birth defects, cancer rates that lead to 4,000 deaths a year in West Virginia, according to Kincaid.
"That's a newborn who never knows a clear breath, a 4-year-old who never gets to be a 5-year-old, a mother who never gets to be a grandmother," Kincaid told reporters Tuesday. "That is what Bank of America finances when it finances the coal industry."
"We adopted a policy 4 or 5 years ago that said we will not finance companies that primarily do mountaintop removal," Moynihan said at Wednesday's meeting. "And we've stuck to that policy."
The trouble, of course, is that the company continues to finance big coal companies with diverse operations, including massive mountaintop removal activities.
"A catastrophe is happening on your watch," one shareholder said, directing her comments to Moynihan.
-- Zach Carter
Occupy Wall Street veteran Max Berger will appear on CNBC this afternoon regarding today's protest:
|@ maxberger : I'm going to be on The Closing Bell on CNBC at 3:45 to talk about #bankvsamerica and the need to #BreakUpBofA. Wish me luck! #fb|
None of the shareholder proposals were approved, and all of the bank's directors up for shareholder approval were given another term.
Bank of America's executive compensation packages were approved with 92 percent of the shareholder vote.
Shareholder proposals are notoriously difficult to pass, since most shares are controlled by large institutional investors that manage stock for many different clients. These large firms are reluctant to demand changes to a company's operations for fear of creating problems among their customers, some of which may approve of a resolution, others of which may not.
Nevertheless, active shareholder presences at annual meetings can sometimes convince management teams to change policies, even when formal votes fall short of passage.
-- Zach Carter
Photo courtesy of Tim Franzen.
Photo courtesy of Michael Premo.
|@ allisonkilkenny : Code Pink not impressed w/#99power: RT @codepink: Organizers of #bankvsamerica don't seem too keen on the idea of anything radical happening|
|@ codepink : Nooo not unimpressed, just making an observation. It's very well organized. @allisonkilkenny|
|@ codepink : Fantastic diversity here #bankvsamerica|
MoveOn sponsoring Sympathy protest in Austin today.
|@ OccupyAustin : Community Calendar: MoveOn-sponsored Bank of America Protest. 4:30pm at Texas State Capitol, south steps. #BankvsAmerica #OWS #OATX #Austin|
More overtones of the activism that will surround the coming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September:
|@ tracyvs : How many more 99%ers will be arrested before a banker goes to jail, @BarackObama? http://t.co/KTjr1DuI #makeboapay #99power|
|@ the99power : Great! RT @andrew_dunn: Appears that most shareholders in here are activist-minded. Lots of applause for criticisms. #BofA #99power|
Photo courtesy of Tim Franzen.
It's the spot where President Obama will give his speech at the Democratic National Convention in September.
|@ Sara_Jeans : Marching in the streets to Bank of America stadium. Bank of America, BAD for America! #makeboapay #occupydc|
Sister Barbara Bush, a housing counselor in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, just took Bank of America and its CEO Brian Moynihan to task for failing to deliver on promises to overhaul its foreclosure practices.
Noting that 41 percent of her organization's housing counseling customers have their loans managed by BofA, Bush said, "We find that BofA is the hardest to deal with."
Years ago, Bush's agency was granted a "single point of contact" on its loan modification requests. Mortgage servicers rarely assign a single person to handle a specific loan, instead allowing the process to be managed by a revolving crew of poorly paid and often short-term customer service employees that bear a greater resemblance to telemarketers than credit analysts. With no single point of contact to handle each mortgage, struggling homeowners often lose their homes, even though other employees at the bank are working to find an alternative solution for them.
After BofA promised Bush's company a single point of contact for the families she works with, she believed the company's foreclosure abuses would abate. Instead, she said, "we have no one to talk to. They do not call us back. I understand, Mr. Moynihan, that you really believe that you've done something, but ... you've got to do something about your mortgage servicing."
"Will you commit to stopping at least the dual track and to reviewing your servicing, and reviewing it until it's right?" she said. "You've reviewed it before, and I'm here telling you, it's not right."
Moynihan said that Bank of America already performs more loan modifications that other big banks and that it will fix any problems that are brought to the bank's attention.
-- Zach Carter
Photo -- showing a large turnout -- submitted by Occupy Atlanta activist Tim Franzen.
Patch is reporting:
Locally, those claiming unfair practices by the banking giant here will descend upon one of their Morristown branches, 188 South St., at 2 p.m. Wednesday. It's just one of over 200 nationwide protests scheduled on the day of Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, N.C., according to Morristown protest organiers Move-On.org and Occupy Morristown.
"It's an educational thing," said Lew Schwartz, organizer for the Morristown Bank of America demonstration. "Their management is not starving, but their customers are and they don't seem to care, at least that's the impression we get."
Click here to read more.
Inside the meeting, Michael Garland of the Office of New York City Comptroller John Liu invoked a recent HuffPost story while advocating for a proposal requiring the bank to review its foreclosure practices.
"The New York City funds continue to have concerns regarding the integrity of the bank's servicing [and] foreclosure ... processes," Garland said, noting that, "In April of 2012, The Huffington Post reported that Bank of America had sued itself in 11 foreclosures."
The New York City pension funds and 9 other institutional investors are urging Bank of America to conduct a thorough review of its foreclosure practices and report the results to shareholders. BofA has been plagued by widespread allegations of fraud in the foreclosure process, with a report from the Inspector General at the Department of Housing and Urban Development finding that the bank's management was involved in the improper foreclosure practices. BofA management opposes the shareholder resolution that would require a review of foreclosure practices.
-- Zach Carter
|@ Sara_Jeans : There are 100 shareholders on our side, inside the meeting. They say they can hear us drumming and chanting #makeboapay #occupydc|
Video by HuffPost's Zach Carter
Wayne Borders calls into HuffPost to report that there are roughly 100 protesters/shareholders inside the meeting.
Inside the meeting, several shareholders are blasting the company's management.
"I'm of the judgment that Bank of America is a felon," one shareholder said. "I don't believe that Bank of America would be here today without the 99% of taxpayers that bailed out Bank of America. The $45 billion that you received pales behind the hundreds of billions that were guaranteed in bonds, commercial paper, and the list goes on and on."
The shareholder's microphone was then cut off.
Another shareholder who identified herself as Judy Konick said, "I accuse [former CEO] Ken Lewis [and current CEO] Brian Moynihan of theft, fraud and abuse."
-- Zach Carter
These photos were submitted by Occupy Columbia activist Wayne Borders, who is on the scene in Charlotte.
Inside the meeting, Andrea Luquetta of the California Reinvestment Coalition spoke in favor of a resolution requiring Bank of America to conduct a review of its foreclosure practices and publish the results for shareholders.
"We've found that federal programs and rules have not stopped illegal foreclosure sales," she said. "Housing counselors have consistently rated Bank of America as the worst servicer ... even in violation of HAMP rules."
HAMP is short for the Home Affordable Modification Program, the foreclosure relief program sponsored by the Obama administration. It is operated by banks, however, and has been plagued by widespread allegations of abuse.
"We obey the law every day," CEO Brian Moynihan said, noting that the bank is "cleaning up" problems from companies it acquired in recent years -- likely alluding to its purchase of Countrywide, the nation's largest subprime lender during the housing bubble.
But Josh Zinner of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project pushed back.
"Bank of America's performance in mortgage servicng is among the worst ... and as a shareholder I'm very worried about the reputational risk," Zinner said. "I was here last year to talk about the problems in servicing, and I'm sorry to say that they have not improved at all."
Another shareholder blasted Moynihan's response:
"Let's be absolutely clear -- other companies you acquired may have made those mortgages. Your company and our company have been the servicer of those mortgages."
"We have 50,000 plus people working on it," Moynihan said. "We continue to do everything we can."
-- Zach Carter
Photos submitted by Occupy Atlanta activist Tim Franzen.