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Election 2016: A Battle of Billionaires (Except for Bernie Sanders)

This Piece Originally Appeared in TomDispatch.

Speaking of the need for citizen participation in our national politics in his final State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Our brand of democracy is hard.” A more accurate characterization might have been: “Our brand of democracy is cold hard cash.”

Cash, mountains of it, is increasingly the necessary tool for presidential candidates. Several Powerball jackpots could already be fueled from the billions of dollars in contributions in play in election 2016. When considering the present donation season, however, the devil lies in the details, which is why the details follow.

With three 2016 debates down and six more scheduled, the two fundraisers with the most surprising amount in common are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Neither has billionaire-infused super PACs, but for vastly different reasons. Bernie has made it clear billionaires won’t ever hold sway in his court. While Trump... well, you know, he’s not only a billionaire but has the knack for getting the sort of attention that even billions can’t buy.

Regarding the rest of the field, each candidate is counting on the reliability of his or her own arsenal of billionaire sponsors and corporate nabobs when the you-know-what hits the fan. And at this point, believe it or not, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 and the super PACs that arose from it, all the billionaires aren’t even nailed down or faintly tapped out yet.  In fact, some of them are already preparing to jump ship on their initial candidate of choice or reserving the really big bucks for closer to game time, when only two nominees will be duking it out for the White House.

Capturing this drama of the billionaires in new ways are TV networks eager to profit from the latest eyeball-gluing version of election politicking and the billions of dollars in ads that will flood onto screens nationwide between now and November 8th. As super PACs, billionaires, and behemoth companies press their influence on what used to be called “our democracy,” the modern debate system, now a 16-month food fight, has become the political equivalent of the NFL playoffs. In turn, soaring ratings numbers, scads of ads, and the party infighting that helps generate them now translate into billions of new dollars for media moguls.

For your amusement and mine, this being an all-fun-all-the-time election campaign, let’s examine the relationships between our twenty-first-century plutocrats and the contenders who have raised $5 million or more in individual contributions or through super PACs and are at 5% or more in composite national polls. I’ll refrain from using the politically correct phrases that feed into the illusion of distance between super PACs that allegedly support candidates’ causes and the candidates themselves, because in practice there is no distinction.

On the Republican Side:

1. Ted Cruz: Most “God-Fearing” Billionaires

Yes, it’s true the Texas senator “goofed” in neglecting to disclose to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) a tiny six-figure loan from Goldman Sachs for his successful 2012 Senate campaign. (After all, what’s half-a-million dollars between friends, especially when the investment bank that offered it also employed your wife as well as your finance chairman?) As The Donald recently told a crowd in Iowa, when it comes to Ted Cruz, “Goldman Sachs owns him. Remember that, folks. They own him.”

That aside, with a slew of wealthy Christians in his camp, Cruz has raised the second largest pile of money among the GOP candidates. His total of individual and PAC contributions so far disclosed is a striking $65.2 million. Of that, $14.28 million has already been spent. Individual contributors kicked in about a third of that total, or $26.57 million, as of the end of November 2015 -- $11 million from small donors and $15.2 million from larger ones. His five top donor groups are retirees, lawyers and law firms, health professionals, miscellaneous businesses, and securities and investment firms (including, of course, Goldman Sachs to the tune of $43,575).

Cruz’s Keep the Promise super PAC continues to grow like an action movie franchise. It includes his original Keep the Promise PAC augmented by Keep the Promise I, II, and III. Collectively, the Keep the Promise super PACs amassed $37.83 million. In terms of deploying funds against his adversaries, they have spent more than 10 times as much fighting Marco Rubio as battling Hillary Clinton.

His super PAC money divides along family factions reminiscent of Game of Thrones.  A $15 million chunk comes from the billionaire Texas evangelical fracking moguls, the Wilks Brothers, and $10 million comes from Toby Neugebauer, who is also listed as the principal officer of the public charity, Matthew 6:20 Foundation; its motto is “Support the purposes of the Christian Community.”

Cruz’s super PACs also received  $11 million from billionaire Robert Mercer, co-CEO of the New York-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. His contribution is, however, peanuts compared to the $6.8 billion a Senate subcommittee accused Renaissance of shielding from the Internal Revenue Service (an allegation Mercer is still fighting). How’s that for “New York values”?  No wonder Cruz wants to abolish the IRS.

Another of Cruz’s contributors is Bob McNair, the real estate mogul, billionaire owner of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, and self-described “Christian steward.”

2. Marco Rubio: Most Diverse Billionaires

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has raised $32.8 million from individual and PAC contributions and spent about $9 million. Despite the personal economic struggles he’s experienced and loves to talk about, he’s not exactly resonating with the nation’s downtrodden, hence his weak polling figures among the little people. Billionaires of all sorts, however, seem to love him.

The bulk of his money comes from super PACs and large contributors. Small individual contributors donated only $3.3 million to his coffers; larger individual contributions provided $11.3 million. Goldman Sachs leads his pack of corporate donors with $79,600.

His main super PAC, Conservative Solutions, has raised $16.6 million, making it the third largest cash cow behind those of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. It holds $5 million from Braman Motorcars, $3 million from the Oracle Corporation, and $2.5 million from Benjamin Leon, Jr., of Besilu Stables. (Those horses are evidently betting on Rubio.)

He has also amassed a healthy roster of billionaires including the hedge-fund “vulture of Argentina” Paul Singer who was the third-ranked conservative donor for the 2014 election cycle. Last October, in a mass email to supporters about a pre-Iowa caucus event, Singer promised, “Anyone who raises $10,800 in new, primary money will receive 5 VIP tickets to a rally and 5 tickets to a private reception with Marco.”

Another of Rubio's Billionaire Boys is Norman Braman, the Florida auto dealer and his mentor. These days he’s been forking over the real money, but back in 2008, he gave Florida International University $100,000 to fund a Rubio post-Florida statehouse teaching job. What makes Braman’s relationship particularly intriguing is his “intense distaste for Jeb Bush,” Rubio’s former political mentor and now political punching bag. Hatred, in other words, is paying dividends for Rubio.

Rounding out his top three billionaires is Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who ranks third on Forbes’s billionaire list.  Last summer, he threw a $2,700 per person fundraiser in his Woodside, California, compound for the candidate, complete with a special dinner for couples that raised $27,000. If Rubio somehow pulls it out, you can bet he will be the Republican poster boy for Silicon Valley.

3. Jeb Bush: Most Disappointed Billionaires

Although the one-time Republican front-runner’s star now looks more like a black hole, the coffers of “Jeb!” are still the ones to beat. He had raised a total of $128 million by late November and spent just $19.9 million of it.  Essentially none of Jeb’s money came from the little people (that is, us). Barely 4% of his contributions were from donations of $200 or less.

In terms of corporate donors, eight of his top 10 contributors are banks or from the financial industry (including all of the Big Six banks). Goldman Sachs (which is nothing if not generous to just about every candidate in sight -- except of course, Bernie) tops his corporate donor chart with $192,500. His super PACs still kick ass compared to those of the other GOP contenders. His Right to Rise super PAC raised a hefty $103.2 million and, despite his disappearing act in the polls, it remains by far the largest in the field.

Corporate donors to Jeb’s Right to Rise PAC include MBF Healthcare Partners founder and chairman Mike Fernandez, who has financed a slew of anti-Trump ads, with $3.02 million, and Rooney Holdings with $2.2 million. Its CEO, L. Francis Rooney III, was the man George W. Bush appointed ambassador to the Vatican. Former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg’s current company, CV Starr (and not, as he has made pains to clarify, he himself), gave $10 million to Jeb’s super PAC. In the same Fox Business interviewwhere he stressed that distinction, he also noted, “I’m sorry he is not living up to expectations, but that’s the reality of it.” AIG, by the way, received $182 billion in bailout money under Jeb’s brother, W.

4. Ben Carson: No Love For Billionaires

Ben Carson is running a pretty expensive campaign, which doesn’t reflect well on his possible future handling of the economy (though, as he sinks toward irrelevance in the polls, it seems as if his moment to handle anything may have passed). Having raised $38.7 million, he’s spent $26.4 million of it. His campaign received 63% of its contributions from small donors, which leaves it third behind Bernie and Trump on that score, according to FEC filings from October 2015.

His main super PACs, grouped under the title “the 2016 Committee,” raised just $3.8 million, with rich retired people providing the bulk of it.  Another PAC, Our Children’s Future, didn’t collect anything, despite its pledge to turn "Carson’s outside militia into an organized army."

But billionaires aren’t Carson’s cup of tea. As he said last October, “I have not gone out licking the boots of billionaires and special-interest groups. I’m not getting into bed with them.”

Carson recently dropped into fourth place in the RealClearPolitics composite poll for election 2016 with his team in chaos. His campaign manager, Barry Bennett, quit. His finance chairman, Dean Parke, resignedamid escalating criticism over his spending practices and his $20,000 a month salary. As the rising outsider candidate, Carson once had an opportunity to offer a fresh voice on campaign finance reform. Instead, his campaign learned the hard way that being in the Republican hot seat without a Rolodex of billionaires can be hell on Earth.

5. Chris Christie: Most Sketchy Billionaires

For someone polling so low, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has amassed startling amounts of dosh. His campaign contributions stand at $18.6 million, of which he has spent $5.7 million. Real people don’t care for him. Christie has received the least number of small contributions in either party, a bargain basement 3% of his total.

On the other hand, his super PAC, America Leads, raised $11 million, including $4.3 million from the securities and investment industry. His top corporate donors at $1 million each include Point 72 Asset Management, the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, and Winnecup Gamble Ranch, run by billionaire Paul Fireman, chairman of Fireman Capital Partners and founder and former chairman of Reebok International Ltd.

Steven Cohen, worth about $12 billion and on the Christie campaign's national finance team, founded Point 72 Asset Management after being forced to shut down SAC Capital, his former hedge-fund company, due to insider-trading charges. SAC had to pay $1.2 billion to settle.

Christie’s other helpful billionaire is Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot. But Langone, as he told the National Journal, is not writing a $10 million check. Instead, he says, his preferred method of subsidizing politicians is getting “a lot of people to write checks, and get them to get people to write checks, and hopefully result in a helluva lot more than $10 million.” In other words, Langone offers his ultra-wealthy network, not himself.

6. Donald Trump: I Am A Billionaire

Trump’s campaign has received approximately $5.8 million in individual contributions and spent about the same amount. Though not much compared to the other Republican contenders, it’s noteworthy that 70% of Trump’s contributions come from small individual donors (the highest percentage among GOP candidates). It’s a figure that suggests it might not pay to underestimate Trump’s grassroots support, especially since he’s getting significant amounts of money from people who know he doesn’t need it.

Last July, a Make America Great Again super PAC emerged, but it shut downin October to honor Trump’s no super PAC claim.  For Trump, dealing with super PAC agendas would be a hassle unworthy of his time and ego. (He is, after all, the best billionaire: trust him.) Besides, with endorsements from luminaries like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and a command of TV ratings that’s beyond compare, who needs a super PAC or even his own money, of which he’s so far spent remarkably little?

On The Democratic Side:

1. Hillary Clinton: A Dynasty of Billionaires 

Hillary and Bill Clinton earned a phenomenal $139 million for themselves between 2007 and 2014, chiefly from writing books and speaking to various high-paying Wall Street and international corporations.  Between 2013 and 2015, Hillary Clinton gave 12 speeches to Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and other financial corporations, pocketing a whopping $2,935,000. And she’s used that obvious money-raising skill to turn her campaign into a fundraising machine.

As of October 16, 2015, she had pocketed $97.87 million from individual and PAC contributions.  And she sure knows how to spend it, too. Nearly half of that sum, or $49.8 million -- more than triple the amount of any other candidate -- has already gone to campaign expenses.

Small individual contributions made up only 17% of Hillary’s total; 81% came from large individual contributions. Much like her forced folksiness in the early days of her campaign when she was snapped eating a burrito bowl at a Chipotle in her first major meet-the-folks venture in Ohio, those figures reveal a certain lack of savoir faire when it comes to the struggling classes.

Still, despite her speaking tour up and down Wall Street and the fact that fourof the top six Wall Street banks feature among her top 10 career contributors, they’ve been holding back so far in this election cycle (or perhaps donating to the GOP instead).  After all, campaign 2008 was a bust for her and nobody likes to be on the losing side twice.

Her largest super PAC, Priorities USA Action, nonetheless raised $15.7 million, including $4.6 million from the entertainment industry and $3.1 million from securities and investment. The Saban Capital Group and DreamWorks kicked in $2 million each.

Hillary has recently tried to distance herself from a well-deserved reputation for being close to Wall Street, despite the mega-speaking fees she’s garnered from Goldman Sachs among others, not to speak of the fact that five of the Big Six banks gave money to the Clinton Foundation. She now claims that her “Wall Street plan” is stricter than Bernie Sanders’s. (It isn’t. He’s advocating to break up the big banks via a twenty-first-century version of the Glass-Steagall Act that Bill Clinton buried in his presidency.) To top it off, she scheduled an elite fundraiser at the $17 billion “alternative investment” firm Franklin Square Capital Partners four days before the Iowa Caucus. So much for leopards changing spots.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Hillary has billionaires galore in her corner, all of whom backed her hubby through the years.  Chief among them is media magnate Haim Saban who gave her super PAC $2 million. George Soros, the hedge-fund mogul, contributed $2.02 million. DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $1 million. And the list goes on.

2. Bernie Sanders: No Billionaires Allowed

Bernie Sanders has stuck to his word, running a campaign sans billionaires. As of October 2015, he had raised an impressive $41.5 million and spent about $14.5 million of it.

None of his top corporate donors are Wall Street banks. What’s more, a record 77% of his contributions came from small individual donors, a number that seems only destined to grow as his legions of enthusiasts vote with their personal checkbooks.

According to a Sanders campaign press release as the year began, another $33 million came in during the last three months of 2015: “The tally for the year-end quarter pushed his total raised last year to $73 million from more than 1 million individuals who made a record 2.5 million donations.” That number broke the 2011 record set by President Obama’s reelection committee by 300,000 donations, and evidence suggests Sanders’s individual contributors aren’t faintly tapped out. After recent attacks on his single-payer healthcare plan by the Clinton camp, he raised $1.4 million in a single day.

It would, of course, be an irony of ironies if what has been a billionaire’s playground since the Citizens United decision became, in November, a billionaire’s graveyard with literally billions of plutocratic dollars interred in a grave marked: here lies campaign 2016.

The Media and Debates

And talking about billions, in some sense the true political and financial playground of this era has clearly become the television set with a record $6 billion in political ads slated to flood America’s screen lives before next November 8th. Add to that the staggering rates that media companies have been getting for ad slots on TV’s latest reality extravaganza -- those “debates” that began in mid-2015 and look as if they’ll never end. They have sometimes pulled in National Football League-sized audiences and represent an entertainment and profit spectacle of the highest order.

So here’s a little rundown on those debates thus far, winners and losers (and I’m not even thinking of the candidates, though Donald Trump would obviously lead the list of winners so far -- just ask him).  In those ratings extravaganzas, especially the Republican ones, the lack of media questions on campaign finance reform and on the influence of billionaires is striking -- and little wonder, under the money-making circumstances.

The GOP Show

The kick-off August 6th GOP debate in Cleveland, Ohio, was a Fox News triumph. Bringing in 24 million viewers, it was the highest-rated primary debate in TV history. The follow-up at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on September 16th, hosted by CNN and Salem Radio, grabbed another 23.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in CNN's history.  (Trump naturally took credit for that.)  CNN charged up to $200,000for a 30-second spot.  (An average prime-time spot on CNN usually goes for $5,000.) The third debate, hosted by CNBC, attracted 14 million viewers, a record for CNBC, which was by then charging advertisers $250,000 or more for 30-second spots.

Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal hosted the next round on November 10th: 13.5 million viewers and (ho-hum) a Fox Business News record. For that one, $175,000 bought you a 30-second commercial slot.

The fifth and final debate of 2015 on December 15th in Las Vegas, again hosted by CNN and Salem Radio, lassoed 18 million viewers. As 2016 started, debate fatigue finally seemed to be setting in. The first debate on January 14th in North Charleston, South Carolina, scored a mere 11 million viewers for Fox Business News. When it came to the second debate (and the last before the Iowa caucuses) on January 28th, The Donald decided not to grace it with his presence because he didn't think Fox News had treated him nicely enough and because he loathes its host Megyn Kelly.

The Democratic Debates

Relative to the GOP debate ad-money mania, CNN charged a bargain half-off, or $100,000, for a 30-second ad during one of the Democratic debates. Let’s face it, lacking a reality TV star at center stage, the Democrats and associated advertisers generally fared less well. Their first debate on October 13th in Las Vegas, hosted by CNN and Facebook, averaged a respectable 15.3 million viewers, but the next one in Des Moines, Iowa, overseen by CBS and the Des Moines Register, sank to just 8.6 million viewers. Debate number three in Manchester, New Hampshire, hosted by ABC and WMUR, was rumored to have been buried by the Democratic National Committee (evidently trying to do Hillary a favor) on the Saturday night before Christmas. Not surprisingly, it brought in only 7.85 million viewers.

The fourth Democratic debate on NBC on January 17th (streamed live on YouTube) featured the intensifying battle between an energized Bernie and a spooked Hillary.  It garnered 10.2 million TV viewers and another 2.3 million YouTube viewers, even though it, too, had been buried -- on the Sunday night before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In comparison, 60 Minutes on rival network CBS nabbed 20.3 million viewers.

The Upshot

So what gives? In this election season, it’s clear that these skirmishes involving the ultra-wealthy and their piles of cash are transforming modern American politics into a form of theater. And the correlation between big money and big drama seems destined only to rise.  The media needs to fill its coffers between now and election day and the competition among billionaires has something of a horse-betting quality to it.  Once upon a time, candidates drummed up interest in their policies; now, their policies, such as they are, have been condensed into so many buzzwords and phrases, while money and glitz are the main currencies attracting attention.

That said, it could all go awry for the money-class and wouldn’t that just be satisfying to witness -- the irony of an election won not by, but despite, all those billionaires and corporate patrons.

Will Bernie’s citizens beat Hillary’s billionaires? Will Trump go billion to billion with fellow New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg? Will Cruz’s prayers be answered? Will Rubio score a 12th round knockout of Cruz and Trump? Does Jeb Bush even exist? And to bring up a question few are likely to ask: What do the American people and our former democratic republic stand to lose (or gain) from this spectacle? All this and more (and more and more money) will be revealed later this year.


Dodd-Frank Turns Four and Nothing Fundamental has Changed

This is an abridged version of my remarks on the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act and impotence of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act at the Schiller Institute's 30th Anniversary Conference in New York City. June 15 2014. Full text and video are here. July 21, 2014 marks four years since the Dodd-Frank Act was signed.

Thank you. I want to address a few things today, one of which is the Glass-Steagall Act, and what it meant to our country’s history, why it was passed, how it helped, and how the repeal of that Act in 1999 has created a tremendously unstable environment for individuals at the hands of private banking institutions and political-financial alliances with governments and central banks.

I also want to talk about how some of the remedies that have been proposed in the wake of the 2008 subprime crisis, including the Dodd-Frank Act, and its allegedly most important component, the Volcker Rule, are ineffective at combatting this risk; and that what we really need to do is go back to a time, and go back to a policy, and to use the strength and intent of the original Glass-Steagall Act to [attain] a new Glass-Steagall Act, in order for us to be safe going forward. When I say “us,” I mean everybody in this room. I mean the population of the United States. I mean the populations throughout the globe.

Because what we have today, and what we’ve had in the wake of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, is [a condition] where the largest banking institutions have been able to increase the concentration of their capital, of their influence, and of their power. This has been subsidized and substantiated by [bi-partisan] political forces within the White House, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and governments throughout the world—in particular, throughout Europe and through the ECB—and it’s something that must change to achieve more [financial and] economic stability for the greater citizenry.

How the Glass-Steagall Act Came To Be

Let’s go back in time, to [consider] how the Glass-Steagall Act came about. We had a major crash in 1929. It was the result of a tremendous amount of speculation, and also rigging of markets by the larger financial institutions, as well as things called trusts, which were small components of these institutions, that were set up in order to bet on various industries, and collections of companies within those industries, and so forth, as well as to make special bets on foreign bonds in foreign lands; as well as to make bets on the housing market, which is something we’ve seen and are familiar with quite recently.

A lot of this activity was done, in particular, by the Big Six banks at the time—which included National City Bank and First National Bank, which today we know as Citigroup; the Morgan Bank and the Chase Bank, which today we know as JPMorgan Chase; as well as two other Big Six bank.  [The men running these banks] got together in the wake of the crash in 1929, which they had helped to [perpetrate], and decided that they needed to save the markets, as they were deteriorating very quickly.

The reason they wanted to save the markets was not because they wanted to protect the population; it was because they wanted to protect themselves. The way they chose to do that, was to put in $25 million each, after only a 20-minute meeting that occurred at the Morgan Bank on No. 23 Wall Street, catty-corner from the New York Stock Exchange. After this 20-minute meeting, which was called together by a man named Thomas Lamont, who was a major banker at the time, and the acting chairman of the Morgan Bank, these six bankers broke and went out into the streets. The press heralded them as heroes who [had] saved the day, and in particular, heralded the Morgan Bank as an institution that [had] yet again save the economy from virtual catastrophe.

It [the press] compared the decision that was made after that 20-minute meeting to what had happened after the Panic of 1907, when J.P. Morgan, the patriarch of the Morgan Bank, had been called upon by President Teddy Roosevelt, to save what was then a situation of deteriorating markets, and of deposits being crushed, and of citizens losing their money because of the rigging of markets.

At the meeting, the decision was to buy up stocks. The stocks that were bought were the ones in which the Big Six banks had the most interest. The market rose for a day, which is why the newspapers were so happy. It was why President Herbert Hoover, at the time, decided he might actually get re-elected, as opposed to facing not just “un-election”, but also, a bad historical legacy. And everybody was quite pleased with the results.

Unfortunately, as we know, after the market rose, after that day, after they put in the money to buy those stocks, it crashed by 90% over the next few years. The country was thrown into a Great Depression. Twenty-five percent of the individuals in the country were unemployed. There was a global depression that was ignited because of [global speculation and debt gone awry]. Foreclosures skyrocketed, businesses closed, thousands of smaller banks [collapsed], and the country plunged into dire straits, [as did the world].

FDR’s Bankers

Into that, came President FDR, and something that’s very interesting historically, that I did not even know before I [researched] my latest book, All the Presidents’ Bankers. FDR had friends - and they were bankers. Two of [his banker] friends were James Perkins, who ran the National City Bank after the Crash of 1929, and Winthrop Aldrich, who was the son of Nelson Aldrich, who happened to have been [the] Senator that [spawned] the Federal Reserve Act, or its precursor, as created at Jekyll Island in 1910 with four big bankers [See Chap. 1 in All the Presidents’ Bankers for more detail on this.]

These were men of pedigree. These were men of power. These were men of wealth. Even before the Glass-Steagall [or Banking] Act was passed in [June] of 1933, and signed into law, these men worked with FDR, because they believed that if they separated the institutions they were running - their banks, the biggest banks in the country - into keeping deposits of individuals safe and divided from speculative activities and the creation [and distribution] of securities that could sour very quickly - then not only their banks, but the general economy [would be sounder.]

That was the theory behind the Glass-Steagall Act: if you separate risky endeavors and practices, and the concentration of that risk, from individual deposits and loans, then you create a more stable banking system, a more stable financial market, a more stable population, and a more stable economy. FDR believed that, and the bankers believed that.

Even before the Act was passed, Aldrich and Perkins [met] with FDR in the first 10 days of his administration, and promised FDR they would separate their banks. And that’s why [Glass-Steagall] was more than just legislation. It was the [result] of a [positive] political-financial alliance and policy to stabilize the system, so that everybody could benefit.

Those [bankers] also did benefit. Their legacies benefitted. The National City Bank that was run by Perkins, the Chase Bank that was run by Aldrich—those banks exist today. But the Glass-Steagall Act enabled them to grow in a more stable manner. Aldrich and Perkins chose to keep the deposit-taking and lending arms of their banks. They promoted the Act [publicly] alongside FDR. Congress, in a bipartisan fashion and enthusiastically, passed the Glass-Steagall Act. So, it was a [sound] national platform on every level.

That’s something we don’t have today.

The Take-Down

What we’ve had since—and it started to a large extent in the late ’70s, and accelerated throughout the Reagan Administration, the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration, and then ramifications through the second Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, is a disintegration of the idea of that Act. The idea that risky endeavors and deposits should be kept separate in order for stability to exist throughout.

In the ’80s, banks were allowed to merge across [more product lines]. In the ’90s, banks were allowed to [merge across state lines] and increase their share of financial services by re-introducing insurance companies, brokerages, the ability to create securities that we now know today can be quite toxic, as well as trade in derivatives and other types of more technologically complex, even more risky, securities, all under one roof.

[Because] in 1999, under President Bill Clinton, an act was passed, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that summarily repealed all the intent of the Glass-Steagall Act. What it created in its wake, was a free-for-all, a merging and concentration and consolidation of the largest banks into ever-more powerful and influential entities: influential over our capital; over our economy; and with respect to the White House.

This is not something that the bankers ‘pushed’ upon the White House. We should realize this. It is something that [also stemmed from] Washington, under several administrations, under bipartisan leaderships, under different types of Treasury secretaries that came from the very same banking system that they were supposedly going to watch over from public office—they all collaborated to repeal this Act.

In 2002, 2003, 2004, when rates were low, and subprime loans started to be offered in bulk, these banks, that now had much more concentration over deposits, over insurance products, over brokerages, and over asset management arms, were able to create [toxic] securities out of a very small amount of loans. Out of a half a trillion dollars worth of subprime loans, extended to individuals, they were able to create a $14 trillion mountain of toxic assets. They were able to leverage that mountain, $14 trillion, to $140 trillion of risk, by virtue of the co-dependencies of the Big Six banks, by virtue of the derivatives involved in the securities [administered through other financial entities], that were laced with these mortgages, and by all sorts of complex different types of financial engineering.

As we know, that practice concluded [badly] in 2008. [But] this time, the result of that implosion was not to chop off the arms of these banks. It was not having men running these banks, like Winthrop Aldrich, say, “You know, this was a bad idea. We screwed up our banks, we screwed up the markets, we screwed up people, we screwed up the economy—let’s separate. Let’s go back to a time that was simpler, that was saner.”

That decision wasn’t made. What occurred instead was a decision at the highest levels of Washington, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the New York Federal Reserve, to coddle this very banking system, and to subsidize it, to sustain it, and all its flaws, and with all the risks that permeated [from it] around the entire population in the United States, and throughout the world, with trillions of dollars of loans, of debt, [of purchases], of cheap money, of a zero-interest-rate policy approaching its sixth year, which means these banks can continue to be liquid, even though they are very unhealthy, and promoting their interests over the interests of the wider population [or customer-base].

Dodd-Frank: The Banks Are Bigger Than Ever

The Dodd-Frank Act was passed and signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010. President Obama, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, as well as many pundits in the media, said it would dial back this immense risk and [act as] sweeping regulation [just] like in the Great Depression.

But it has done absolutely nothing of the kind. In the wake of the 2008 crisis, the big banks are bigger. JPMorgan Chase was able very cheaply [to acquire] Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, to become the largest bank in the United States again. This ties back to the legacy of J.P. Morgan in the 1907 Panic, throughout the decisions that were made at its request before 1929, in the wake of the 1929 Crash, and so forth.

Citigroup has managed to survive. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, [Bank of America]—all of these banks, the Big Six today, which are largely variations of the Big Six banks, historically, 100 years ago, with a couple of additions and many mergers along the way—have been able to sustain themselves due to a government policy that has enabled them to grow and promote risky practices that are dangerous to all of us.

The Dodd-Frank Act doesn’t separate these banks. It doesn’t make them smaller. It doesn’t diffuse their derivatives concentration [and co-dependencies]. The Big Six banks today in the United States, control 96% of all the derivatives trading in the United States. They control 45% of all the derivatives trading throughout the globe. They control 84% of the FDIC-assured deposits throughout all of the banks in the United States, and 85% of the assets throughout all of the banks in the United States. So their concentration, their power, is immense in the wake of the 2008 crisis, and in the wake of this alleged remedy to the crisis, which is the Dodd-Frank Act.

And the final component of that Act, which is supposed to at least reduce their riskiest trading practices, or proprietary trading: The Volcker Rule is an 892 page [piece of legislation], that [contains] 55 pages of definitions and rule, and the rest is exemptions to that rule. The banks can continue to make markets, to hedge, to provide hedge funds and private equity funds, just under different language, to keep their insurance arms, to keep their brokerages, to create complex securities that are so interlocked that if one fails, the rest of them fail. And if the bank that has the most of them fails or falters, the other banks in this entire system will fail or falter as well. So, nothing in the Volcker Rule of the Dodd-Frank Act materially changes anything.

Resurrect Glass-Steagall!

What we need is a resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act. And We need to realize it wasn’t just a law; it was a policy of stability. It was a political and financial alliance between the White House and the biggest bankers of the time, and the population.

That’s what we must press, and that’s the only thing—a complete separation of risky endeavors from our money, from normal lending practices, [from government subsidies]—that can even start to foster a more stable financial system, banking system, and economic environment for all the rest of us.

That’s the take-away from today. There’s more information about the lead-up to the Glass-Steagall Act, the swipes at it over time, the particular alignment and relationships of Presidents and bankers that actually cared more about the population’s economic stability as well, as the ones that didn’t care at all. This can be found in my book All the Presidents’ Bankers, which I urge you to check out, to gain [further] knowledge about the reasons for why we had that Act, and why it’s more necessary than ever, today.


Answers to All the Presidents' Bankers Quiz #1 - some historical facts!

Answers to All the Presidents’ Bankers Quiz #1 (of 3):

March 1, 2014

As promised, here are the answers and some background explanations to the All the Presidents' Bankers Quiz #1 with lots of factoids about the men and families in political and financiall power over the past century. Test your knowledge of the past century of blood, intermarriage, protégé-mentorship and other ties connecting the White House and Wall Street, that form America's political-financial genealogy and elite power circle.  You can also do Quiz #1 at:

All the Presidents' Bankers by Nomi Prins is available for pre-order online now, and out April 8, 2014.  For more , see:

Questions: 1) d, 2) d, 3) b, 4) d, 5) d, 6) d, 7) d, 8) b, 9) a, 10) b

1. Which president's father worked with which elite banker to form the prestigious Metropolitan Club in New York City?

a) Teddy Roosevelt's father and Junius Morgan

b) Calvin Coolidge's father and James Stillman

c) John F. Kennedy's father and John D. Rockefeller

d) Franklin Delano Roosevelt's father and John Pierpont Morgan

FDR's father, James A. Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan were two of the founding fathers of the Metropolitan Club in New York City, where many elite family patriarchs gathered together.

2. Which banker who would later chair a Big Six bank rented one of FDR's New York City townhouses during WWI? 

a) Winthrop Aldrich from the Chase Bank (now part of JPM Chase)

b) James Stillman from the National City Bank (now part of Citigroup)

c) George Baker, Sr. from the First National Bank (now part of Citigroup)

d) Thomas Lamont from the Morgan Bank (now part of JPM Chase)

While FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Woodrow Wilson's administration during WWI,  his fellow Harvard alum, Thomas Lamont  rented out his NYC townhouse at 49 East 65th street from 1916-1920.  The annual rental price was $8000, or about $112,000 in today's dollars. Lamont was a partner at the Morgan bank at the time and became Chairman during FDR"s last term as president.

3. Which former Chase chairman shared a fascination of puddle jumper planes with which president?

a)  David Rockefeller and John F. Kennedy

b) John McCloy and Dwight D. Eisenhower

c) David Rockefeller and Harry Truman

d) John McCloy and Harry Truman

John McCloy spoke of their shared love of puddle jumper planes in his Oral History. During WWII, while General Eisenhower led the Allied troops in Europe, McCloy served as the Assistant Secretary of War under Henry Stimson in the FDR administration. Brought into the Rockefeller-Chase fold by Nelson Rockefeller, he became Chairman of Chase in 1953 and steered its 1955 $7.5 million merger with Bank of Manhattan (run by J. Stewart Baker) to form Chase Manhattan.

4. Which major banker from which bank worked most closely with FDR behind the scenes in Washington to pass the Glass- Steagall Act?

a) Jack Morgan (J.P. Morgan's son) from the Morgan Bank

b) James Perkins from National City Bank

c) Thomas Lamont from the Morgan Bank

d) Winthrop Aldrich from Chase

Though both Perkins and Aldrich met with FDR at the White House to discuss their support for passage of the Glass-Steagall Act, it was Winthrop Aldrich that took the most active role in supporting the strongest possible version of the Act, at the request of FDR.

5. The father of which president was appointed as the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) by FDR in 1934 to police the banking industry?

a) Harry Truman

b) Gerald Ford

c) Lyndon B. Johnson

d) John F. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's father helped FDR secure the state of California which proved a cornerstone of FDR's presidential campaigns. In 1934, FDR appointed him the first president of the new securities regulatory body, the SEC.  He later was appointed US Ambassador to the UK by FDR.

6. Who was the first president to select a major Wall Street bank CEO as  his Treasury Secretary?

a) Bill Clinton

b) George W. Bush

c) George H.W. Bush

d) Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan chose Donald Regan, CEO of Merrill Lynch as his first Treasury Secretary. Today, Merrill Lynch by virtue of its 2008 acquisition by Bank of America is part of the Big Six banks.

7. Which president appointed his son-in-law Treasury Secretary, and which banker that would later chair a Big Six bank, was appointed Assistant Treasury Secretary as a result?

a) Warren Harding and Albert Wiggin

b) Calvin Coolidge and Charles Mitchell

c) Teddy Roosevelt and William Potter

d) Woodrow Wilson and Russell Leffingwell

Woodrow Wilson appointed his son-in-law William McAdoo as Treasury Secretary, who in turn selected his Yonkers friend and neighbor, Russell Leffingwell to be his assistant Treasury Secretary.  Leffingwell later became partner and then Chairman of the Morgan Bank.

8. Which President's grandfather ran a bank that ultimately  became one of the Big Six banks that helped finance his campaign?

a) George W. Bush

b) George H.W. Bush

c) Ronald Reagan

d) John F. Kennedy

George Herbert Walker founded an investment bank, G.W. Walker & Co in 1900 that later employed many Bush family members and friends. It was taken over by Merill Lynch, which was subsequently taken over by Bank of America.

9. Which banker briefly dated the sister of which president?

a) David Rockefeller and John F. Kennedy

b) John McCloy and John F. Kennedy

c) Gabriel Hauge and Harry Truman

d) David Rockefeller and Harry Truman

David Rockefeller met John F. Kennedy's sister, Kathleen, at her coming out party in London in 1938, while their father, Joseph Kennedy was serving as FDR's UK Ambassador. According to his memoirs, David 'enjoyed the company of' Kathleen for a brief period after that.

10. The Treasury Secretary of which president recently joined a financial firm founded by a banker whose uncle was appointed one of the first Fed governors by Woodrow Wilson in 1914?

a) Ronald Reagan

b) Barack Obama

c) Bill Clinton

d) George W. Bush

Barack Obama's Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, joined the private equity firm of Warburg, Pinkus after leaving his Washington post. The firm was founded by Eric Warburg, nephew of Paul Warburg, one of the original Fed architects at Jekyll Island and personally selected by Woodrow Wilson as one of its first governors. Wilson's campaign financing came from firms and families connected to Warburg.