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Ed Mierzwinski

Ed Mierzwinski

Posted: February 12, 2010 10:29 AM

In The Public Interest: A Senator Stands Up To A Deceptive TV Ad

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Kudos to U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) for criticizing TV ads running in Montana and around the country which claim that Congressional efforts to rein in the reckless Wall Street bankers will amount to another "bailout."

"That ad is confusing a lot of folks, because it's not true," Tester told the Billings Gazette on Wednesday. "We're not dealing with any $4 trillion bank bailout. To confuse people and put forward an ad with a lot of false information, and not tell people who you are? ... I cannot believe the system works this way."

The TV ad, paid for by an organization called "Committee for Truth In Politics," whose registered agent is a North Carolina attorney - one James Bopp, involved in Republican Party politics - tells anything but the truth. (The Annenberg Public Policy Center's Factcheck.org found more than a few facts missing. See their analysis here.)

The ad (click here to view) attacks the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, approved last December which sets some rules for Wall Street and calls for the establishment of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

For anyone to claim that Bopp is a principled conservative rather than just another Wall Street lackey - and we would like to know if he is a paid Wall Street lackey because his so-called "truth" committee is spending millions of somebody's money to defeat reform - would be nearly as ludicrous as Bopp's claims that financial reform is a bailout that taxpayers should urge Congress to oppose.

In fact, Bopp's claims are not even his own.

In January 2010, the pollster and corporate and conservative messaging guru Frank Luntz drafted a "how-to" memo (PDF) on defeating financial reform proposals now making their way through Congress. The memo suggested that bank reform is so popular with the public that the "single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout" (page 7 of Luntz's "The Language of Financial Reform" - PDF.)

Yes, with the public firmly against the Wall Street banks and the generous bailouts they received, the only way Luntz's clients (Merrill Lynch, now a part of Bank of America, and other powerful vested interests) can defeat the current reform proposal is to manufacture an argument that calls the reform a new "bailout."

Let's examine the real truth: In 2008, the reckless practices of the Wall Street banks collapsed the economy. They got bailed out by still-angry Main Street taxpayers who had no choice because the Federal Reserve and the Treasury said the banks were "too-big-to-fail."

Meanwhile, those ordinary Americans who bailed them out have seen a precipitous decline in the value of their retirement, college savings and housing assets, and some may even be without a job due to the economic crisis.

Not surprisingly, those same taxpayers and consumers on Main Street have said "never again" and they are asking Congress for real reform.

But the Wall Street bankers are at it again. No, they're not making loans. Instead, they are declaring massive profits and bonuses while their phalanx of lobbyists blocks action in the Senate on needed reforms.

How long does Main Street have to wait?

Every day the Senate doesn't act is one more day that the Wall Street lobby spends thousands...

  • trying to kill the independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) - the only part of reform specifically designed to protect families
  • trying to carve massive loopholes in derivatives reform efforts designed to end speculation
  • and trying to create exemptions for hedge and private equity funds that the next Bernie Madoff could drive a truck through.

(See my previous column for more on the CFPA and other key aspects we need to assure are in the financial reform package.)

If Congress defeats Wall Street reform, as the ad asks it to do, then the Wall Street bankers who collapsed the economy will win. Such an outcome is decidedly not in the public interest. It leaves taxpayers on Main Street without jobs, living in houses that have declined in value and afraid to open their retirement account statements.

The good news is that Banking Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) is hanging tough and refusing to settle for something that looks like, but isn't, reform. Meanwhile, he has begun encouraging bi-partisan negotiations with committee member Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

If his committee members can realize - as Sen. Tester appears to have - that the opponents of reform have no clothes, then maybe we can get real reform done.

It's been over a year since we bailed out Wall Street and Main Street can't wait for reforms to fix the system that failed to protect us.

It's been a lost year for American consumers as the economy still stumbles; it shouldn't be a lost opportunity for Congress.

U.S. PIRG is a member of the Americans for Financial Reform coalition.

 

Follow Ed Mierzwinski on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uspirg