BUSINESS

Former Congresswoman Now Officially Working For Wall Street

06/20/2014 03:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2014
AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

WASHINGTON -- Future Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her longtime aide Dan Geldon made the rounds in the House of Representatives throughout 2009, looking to persuade as many Financial Services Committee members as they could to sign off on her idea for an agency dedicated to protecting consumers from financial predation.

Warren recounts one such meeting with an unnamed House Democrat in her new book, A Fighting Chance.

I remember one meeting particularly well. A congresswoman who seemed really interested in what we had to say told me that she supported consumers and wanted to see them treated fairly. Then she raised a specific objection to the agency. I answered, but instead of talking about the issue, she moved on to another objection, and so on through a list of about half a dozen more problems.

Despite her many objections, I felt a little encouraged. Once Dan and I were out in the hall, I said, "Well, she didn't agree with much of anything, but at least she was talking. Maybe we have a shot at persuading her."

For a moment, Dan looked like he was weighing whether to give me the bad news. But Dan never holds back long on bad news. He explained that the congresswoman had just run through every talking point included in a press release issued by the American Bankers Association that morning. In order.

Oh.

A source close to Warren, familiar with the meeting, tells The Huffington Post that the congresswoman in question was then-Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois.

On Friday, Politico's Morning Money newsletter announced that Bean has been named to a high-profile job with JPMorgan Chase, where she'll serve as chair of Midwest operations -- a job previously held by Bill Daley, who vacated it to become briefly the chief of staff to President Barack Obama.

Bean lost her 2010 reelection race to tea party favorite Joe Walsh, who subsequently was knocked from office by Democrat Tammy Duckworth after he suggested in a debate that there need be no exception to abortion bans in cases of rape and incest because of advances in medical science.

During her tenure in Congress, Bean developed a reputation for privileging Wall Street over consumers and taxpayers. HuffPost's Arthur Delaney profiled her in a 2010 story titled "Melissa Bean: A Democrat Bankers Bank On."

Morning Money -- which HuffPost has also profiled -- reported around the time of Bean's election loss that she was being considered to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the same agency that Warren had been pushing in 2009. The idea was resoundingly panned by bank reformers.

Bean declined an interview for this article. But former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told HuffPost that it's unfair to paint her as a bank sellout.

"Optics, shmoptics," Frank said. "The only issue where we differed [on the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation] was over the degree of preemption for the national banks. ... She didn't want to go as far as I wanted to go."

Despite strenuous objections from consumer advocates, Bean had wanted to block states from enacting tougher laws against predatory lending than the federal government adopted. She ultimately voted for Dodd-Frank after threatening to blow the whole thing up over the issue of federal preemption.

At times during their congressional tenures, of course, both Frank and Bean agreed with Wall Street. Both voted against auditing the Federal Reserve, for instance. Frank noted that Bean also favored keeping low tax rates for hedge fund managers and private-equity kingpins, which he opposed.

But he defended her decision to take a job at the nation's largest bank.

"Melissa was very supportive of financial reform in general as a member of the committee. ... Do we only want people who are opposed to regulation working at these institutions?" Frank said. "I hope it's a sign that [JPMorgan CEO Jamie] Dimon understands that this law is a reality, that it's important to accept the framework."

A former top aide to Bean, who wasn't present at the 2009 meeting with Warren, said that while the congresswoman "was certainly pro-business, she would never just repeat a lobbyist's talking points."

Bean may not have had to get the bank industry's talking points from a lobbyist, however. In June 2009, she met with the man who held the job to which she's now been named, discussing Wall Street reform with Daley and other senior JPMorgan officials. The bank's executives donated $11,000 to her reelection campaign that same month, according to the Public Accountability Initiative's LittleSis website.

The meeting with Warren happened on July 10, the source close to the senator said.

Just weeks earlier, the JPMorgan officials had made their case to Bean. "She laid out how she saw the president's proposal, and the difficulties politically in Congress, and Jamie [Dimon] and other members [of the board of directors] expressed their opinion of what they would like to see," Daley told the Chicago Tribune in 2009. But Daley added that Bean was not marching in lockstep against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"It was clear in June that she did not have a knee-jerk aversion to the concept of a federal consumer protection agency, in spite of all our brilliant arguments," he said.

Next time around, it'll be Bean getting to make the brilliant arguments.

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