THE BLOG
04/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Beware Frank Luntz's Lies and Rein in the Big Banks!

Seen this ad from the "Committee for Truth in Politics"? If the name weren't comical enough, the visuals are. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take the message seriously. The claim that financial regulatory reform is a $4 trillion bank bailout doesn't really resemble any truth, as Factcheck.org explains. Yet we know this is just the beginning of what we'll see and hear as the weeks roll on for the push for real financial regulatory reform. And where did these conservatives get the idea to say black is white and up is down? Frank Luntz.

Frank Luntz, pollster to the right wing and Wall Street agenda, has written a 17-page memo on how to talk about financial reform in order to destroy it. This is the same Luntz whose health insurance reform talking points - on how to best stir up fear and confusion in the American people to derail reform and protect insurance industry profits - showed up across conservative websites and in the mouths of lawmakers. So it shouldn't be surprising that he's at it again. After all, his client list is a who's who of the corporate interests who helped to create the crisis, including Merrill Lynch and Bear Sterns.

When the Frank Luntz Memo wasn't making me laugh with its absurdity, I was outraged that he uses 1984 George Orwellian advice to call good, bad; to say the solution is the problem. It's this kind of thinking that inspired belief in the "death panels" that were a fabrication in the health care debate. And it is dangerous because he may have enough money to promote it again and again -- so that it may sound real.

He starts by acknowledging the same things we do at Americans for Financial Reform: Americans are mad as hell about the economy. They hate the bailout. They think Congress bailed out the big banks and sold them out. They will not tolerate the status quo. But Luntz has an agenda, and he brilliantly comes up with ways Members of Congress can pretend to support change while actually defending the status quo or sending us backward. No lie is too large or small for this endeavor.

Of course, real financial reform is not a bank bailout. It's not about bailing out banks at all -- it's about protecting families and small businesses. That is, UNLESS the big banks and their lobbyists and money re-write the bill to serve their needs and create the very loopholes that Luntz says will infuriate most people.

Luntz points out that, "the bailout provisions get the most visceral reaction" in his poll. Advocates for reform should have an easy case to make -- but only if the bill is strong enough to actually do the job it needs to do: protect consumers, force the shadow markets to have transparency and accountability (including exchange trading of derivatives), and ensure someone is there watching out for the whole economy -- someone who is not controlled by the big banks.

And then there are the "lobbyist loopholes," which Luntz finds the public rightly abhors. "The public is angriest about lobbyist loopholes," he explains. But the way to get rid of loopholes it to get rid of loopholes, not reform as a whole. His messaging is directed to people like Rep. Campbell (R-CA), a former auto dealer himself, who exempted his friends and colleagues who are also autodealers and one of the most predatory of the lending operations. This is a loophole so wide you could drive these cars through it. Of course, what Luntz fails to mention -- as he uses this huge loophole to kill reform -- is that it's Luntz and his big bank lobbyist friends who worked hard get these lobbyist-driven exemptions in the first place.

And let's be honest about how all these exclusions -- from auto dealers to retailers -- got there: big bank lobbyists. Luntz and his conservative allies on the Hill have made their stance unambiguous -- they're standing with big Wall Street bankers, whose greedy and reckless behavior got us into this problem.

It's clear these Members are bowled over by Wall Street lobbyists and their big wallets. These same big banks have spent $344 million lobbying against reform with 1,500 lobbyists -- many of them former Members of Congress. While they might have Luntz's cronies in their back pocket, the public is standing with those Members who have enough spine to stand up to the lobbyists -- by supporting legislation that really sticks it to the banks.