So, the financial services industry says it wants to "earn back the trust of the American people."
That must mean it's loosening up loans to small businesses and investing money in communities hard hit by the nation's jobs crisis, right?
Actually not. According to the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the 150 largest banks and insurance companies, "earning back the trust of the American people" means spending millions of dollars on a public relations campaign to make Big Banks look warm and fuzzy.
Here's a message for the corporations that took $700 billion in our taxpayer bailout dollars: America's 17 million jobless workers can't feed their families on PR.
When I was in Philadelphia at one of the 200 AFL-CIO Make Wall Street Pay rallies this month, I talked with one of those workers. Kelle Sallard was laid off from Verizon because of the economic crisis brought on by Big Banks. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) member told the crowd:
I lost my job at Verizon, lost my benefits and make too much on unemployment to qualify for free health care.
The Wall Street image makeover comes just in time to cover up its multi-million-dollar lobbying campaign to weaken or block the Obama administration's plans to overhaul regulation of the financial industry. They're flooding the halls of Capitol Hill with lobbyists--400 from banking and related groups had registered with Congress to weigh in on regulatory reform by the end of last year, according to data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.
And they're spending massively to convince members of Congress to sell out to the same corporations that used our taxpayer bailout to give $145 billion in 2009 executive pay and bonuses. Since the beginning of 2009, large banks and financial firms have spent more than $500 million on lobbying and campaign contributions, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The financial industry's latest lobbying push will add tens of millions of dollars more.
Wall Street got our bailout money after fueling an economic disaster that has left America's workers without jobs and communities without hope. Now we need to see some returns. Here's what needs to be done.
First, Big Banks must resume lending to help credit-starved communities starved for credit create jobs. Next, they must embrace a small tax to curb destabilizing short-term speculation and pay for the jobs they destroyed. A small tax of about half a penny for every dollar on financial transactions such as stock, option and derivative trades would restore balance in the investment world and would raise $175 billion to $350 billion a year to invest in American jobs. European economists have estimated that a tax as small as 0.01 percent applied globally to all transactions would raise 1.7 percent of global GDP. The U.S. portion of this would be 0.7 percent of U.S. GDP, or $99 billion per year.
Congress also must reform the rules for Wall Street, including creation of an independent consumer agency that will crack down on abuses by big banks and their CEOs and credit card companies to protect working families and small businesses.
Almost two-thirds of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of business executives, according to a new Bloomberg National Poll. And some 56 percent of the American public says it would support government action to limit compensation of those who helped cause the financial crisis, or to ban those people from working in the banking industry.
Bailed out banks also are funding a $3 million ad blitz through the Chamber of Commerce to lobby against financial reform. As Paul Schott Stevens, president of the Investment Company Institute, reportedly told the Chamber of Commerce, the fear is that proposals to make the nation's financial regulations work for consumers is
a re-ordering of our financial institutions for generations to come.
That's the point. Because whoever thinks the system doesn't need reforming, has a lot to gain by keeping things just as they are.
Follow Richard Trumka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichardTrumka