When you and I think about the "stars and stripes" we think of the American flag. The Romney campaign, though, thinks bundlers. Big bundlers.
In May the Center for Public Integrity described the kinds of perks Romney's biggest bundlers receive at Republican Party gatherings: "special access to debates and the Republican National Convention, weekly campaign briefings and attendance at finance team retreats... According to campaign documents...[b]undlers who raise at least $500,000 achieve the 'Stripes' level, and people who raise at least $200,000 are awarded the 'Stars' level. The names of all Stars and Stripes-level fundraisers will also be published in a commemorative book."
As of May, the one lobbyist-bundler to earn his Stripes was Patrick J. Durkin Sr. of Barclays Capital. That's right, Barclays -- the London-based banking giant at the epicenter of the Libor rate fixing scandal.
The scandal generated explosive press overseas and in print media in the U.S., but was virtually ignored by the major networks. Still, pressure built, and Elizabeth Warren wrote, "Real accountability would mean prosecuting the traders and bank officials who violated federal laws and prosecuting the executives who knew what they were up to." Even the normally tight-lipped Justice Department announced that it was pursuing criminal charges in the case.
Enter Mitt Romney. As it happened, Romney had scheduled a gala London fundraising bash (price tag: up to $75,000 a plate) as part of his hapless summer foreign tour, and one of its co-hosts was none other than Barclays CEO Robert Diamond. At least he was until he ended up in disgrace and was forced to resign.
But the show went on nonetheless. An apt story in The Washington Post was headlined, "Romney's London fundraisers will take him to heart of scandal-plagued banking industry." And as John Nichols noted, while Diamond himself stepped down as a co-host of the event, Barclays was represented by stripes-winning bundler Patrick Durkin, whose name appeared on the invitation alongside executives from other banks targeted in the Libor investigations, including Bank of Credit Suisse (whose CEO has already donated $100,000 to the pro-Romney "Restore Our Future" Super PAC), Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Blackstone and Wells Fargo Securities.
Meanwhile, one of only two of Romney's lobbyist-bundlers to reach the 'Stars' level is T. Martin Fiorentino Jr., of the Fiorentino Group. By May, he had raised over $325,000 for Romney.
One of Fiorentino's most notorious clients is Lender Processing Services, a foreclosure mill that, as Matt Viser of the Boston Globe noted, was reprimanded in April for "unsound practices related to residential mortgage loan serving and foreclosure processing." Viser went on:
[A]s he [Romney] has built his fund-raising machine, he has relied heavily on a man who has lobbied Congress on mortgage reform and anti-predatory lending legislation that contained strict rules aimed at preventing another subprime mortgage collapse.
Fiorentino's Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm, the Fiorentino Group, has been paid $180,000 by Lender Processing Services since late 2009, according to lobbying disclosure forms. The firm lobbied the House and Senate on the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.
The legislation...came in response to the subprime mortgage crisis and was meant to prevent lenders from making loans that borrowers would have difficulty repaying. It was approved by the House in May 2009, but wasn't taken up that year by the Senate.
Much of the legislation ended up being included last year in the Dodd-Frank Act, a larger overhaul of national financial regulations.
Lender Processing Services is one of the country's largest mortgage service providers, claiming to handle more than half of all foreclosures and providing services for more than 1,000 financial institutions. The company came under scrutiny after admitting last year that one of its subsidiaries, DocX, had been improperly preparing some of the foreclosure documents.
DocX was ground zero in the massive "robosigning" fraud. Its founder and former president was indicted in Georgia on 136 fraud counts earlier this year, and is under indictment in other states as well. The robosigning scandal led to a call for investigations by all 50 state attorneys general; this is turn led to the National Mortgage Settlement agreement.
Meanwhile, back in Tampa
The Republican choice of Tampa for their convention may be a better choice than anyone had ever imagined. The stars and stripes -- and Governor Romney's own rate-fixers and predatory lenders -- gathering in a storm, in one of America's hardest hit epicenters of the housing crisis.
According to RealtyTrac's July foreclosure market report, "Florida's foreclosure rate ranked third highest among the states in July, up from sixth highest in June thanks in part to a 14 percent month-over-month increase in foreclosure activity. A total of 25,534 Florida properties had a foreclosure filing in July, a rate of one in every 352 housing units and an increase of 14 percent from July 2011."
Last month Tampa itself had the ninth highest foreclosure rate of any city in the country -- and recorded the highest increase in foreclosure activity in the country in the first half of 2012 (47 percent). So as Romney, the Republicans and their bag men converge this week in Tampa, think about this as you watch the convention delegates salute the Stars and Stripes: One of Mitt Romney's biggest bundlers makes money representing predatory lenders and fraudulent mortgage servicers who want to prevent Congress from curtailing their corrupt practices. What would Romney do?