THE BLOG
05/24/2010 07:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Financial Reform: The Collective Power of Local Government vs. Big Banks

Across the United States, newspaper headlines lead with stories about
financial reform. Members of Congress want to better regulate Wall
Street and to take on the fat cats at the big banks, with their golden
parachutes and big bonuses, who took our hard-earned tax dollars in
the form of a federal bailout, despite the fact that they got us in to
this mess in the first place. And Congress is right to take on the
big banks - reform at the national level is long overdue and obviously
needed. But in the hubbub that is the national overhaul, the seeds of
this reform, the work done at the state and local level, cannot be
overlooked nor can we let up on this work. True reform of our banking
and financial systems will take pressure and action at every level and
across the nation.

Americans are fed up with billionaires who are bilking us for all we
are worth, making the middle class the biggest losers. Our friends
and neighbors have lost their homes, found out that the pensions or
retirement savings they worked for are gone and are struggling to find
work in the worst economy of our lifetimes. In the meantime, Wall
Street is back to business as usual, posting new profits, while those
on the other side of the deals have lost their homes, their jobs, and
their retirement savings.

With all of the anger and distrust of Wall Street, we have hit a place
where we are ready for a basic cultural shift - one that turns away
from looking at our investments and banking solely on the basis of
short-term profits, and toward the production of true long-term
growth: by investing our funds in economic growth opportunities that
directly impact our communities.

We cannot let this historic opportunity pass us by. We must channel
our inner target="_hplink">Howard Beale and scream from our windows, "I'm
mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" - our outrage must
be heard, not just in words but in action.

At the City level, leveraging this cultural shift means investing our
money in banks that are helping grow Main Street by offering small
business loans, working with homeowners to renegotiate mortgages when
they're faced with foreclosure, and opening up bank branches and the
cycle of credit in under-served areas, by creating local versions of
the Community Reinvestment Act standards. After all, what good does
it do Los Angeles if the banks in which the bulk of our tax dollars
sit in are reinvested in another City, far away?

That's why the Los Angeles City Council href="http://moveyourmoney.info/archives/1537"
target="_hplink">unanimously supported my proposal to create href="http://ens.lacity.org/council/cd7/pressreleases/cd7pressreleases275865309_03052010.pdf"
target="_hplink">Responsible Banking Standards in Los Angeles,
based on a Philadelphia model put in place in 2002. Los Angeles alone
has a cash and pension portfolio of over twenty-five billion dollars,
which allows us to leverage these investments in such a way to benefit
the residents of our city - not just through the rate of return, but
by looking at how the banks and financial institutions reinvest in our
community. The ordinance will require that any bank looking to do
business with Los Angeles would have to submit a report to the City
Treasurer who, in turn, would grade the banks based on their
investments in Los Angeles.

And we're not the only ones - cities including Boston, Carson,
Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Independence, Muskegon and Watsonville are
all looking into creating similar standards for Responsible Banking.
And this week, target="_hplink">Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo is hosting a
Council hearing to examine how the Boston City Council can hold big
banks accountable in their city. The States of California,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington are also all
considering or have implemented sweeping financial reforms, including
looking at the creation of State-run banks or investing only in
State-chartered banks.

The anger is palatable and the time for reform is now.

We've lost our trust in the banks that took our bailout money, and let
hundreds of thousands of homes fall into foreclosure.

We've lost our trust in Wall Street, where companies gained enormous
profits, betting on the demise of investments.

We've lost trust in the rating agencies, when 93% of the
subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006 for which they gave
AAA ratings are now "junk" status.

The only way that trust is going to be restored is with sweeping
reform. That's why Congress must pass substantive financial reform,
so that Americans can begin to believe again. But at the same time,
reform - just as powerful - must come from the cities and states.
Collectively, our leverage is enormous. I introduced a resolution at
the National League of
Cities
in support of local reform, because I know the power we
could have if we banded together. Local and state officials know the
pain of our constituents, and know the benefit that can be derived
from holding banks and financial institutions more accountable.

The notion that we can create real change is not just pie in the sky.
The City of Philadelphia has had their href="http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Pennsylvania/philadelphia_pa/title19financetaxesandcollections/chapter19-200cityfunds-depositsinvestmen?f=templates$fn=document-frameset.htm$q=[and%3AFair%20Lending%20Community%20Reinvestment]%20$x=server$3.0#LPHit1"
target="_hplink">policy in place since 2002, which has resulted in
increased consumer and small business lending to historically
under-served areas of that city. And on April 16, Massachusetts State
Treasurer Timothy Cahill announced that the State of Massachusetts
will begin divesting $243 million in taxpayer dollars from three of
the nation's largest banks - Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells
Fargo. The decision came after the banks were asked, and refused, to
voluntarily comply with an 18% interest rate cap on credit cards and
other consumer borrowing for Massachusetts residents. The cap, which
is required of all Massachusetts state-chartered banks, does not apply
to federally-chartered banks.

These actions are just the beginning of our cultural shift. More
Cities and states are needed to create real pressure on the banks. I
urge every City to create standards for how tax-payer dollars are
invested and find ways to ensure that the dollars are going to banks
and financial institutions that are behaving well.

Shouting may not get what we want - but you can bet that billions and
billions of dollars taken elsewhere will get banks' attention.

We are mad as Hell - and we don't have to take it any more.