GOP decries ‘phony war’ on Wall Street

Republicans are mounting a new effort to call Democrats hypocrites for raising populist ire at banks while continuing to accept millions of dollars in campaign money from them.

House Republicans in particular argue President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are fighting a “phony war on Wall Street” with their renewed efforts to rein in big banks.

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“The White House and congressional Democrats ARE Wall Street,” said a recent statement from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) that referred to the campaign contributions Democrats received from the financial industry.

The finance, insurance and real estate industries have contributed roughly $85 million to federal lawmakers in the 2010 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats received 58 percent of that money, and Republicans received 42 percent.

Both Democrats and Republicans are attempting to win over a public outraged at Wall Street, which is witnessing soaring revenue as the broader economy continues to suffer amid 10 percent unemployment.

Democrats dismiss the new Republican attacks as unfounded campaign tactics. The House passed legislation in December to rein in the industry, and Democrats are targeting Republicans for voting unanimously in opposition.

“While House Democrats stand up for folks on Main Street, House Republicans fight tirelessly to protect and defend Wall Street at the expense of middle-class families and are busy preaching a return to the failed policies of President Bush, who sank our economy,” said Ryan Rudominer, press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “This is a fight we relish.”

The DCCC has begun campaigning against Republicans for voting against the financial overhaul bill. Soon after the House vote, the campaign committee launched radio ads against Republican Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Lee Terry (Neb.), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Joe Wilson (S.C.).

Obama and congressional Democrats are ramping up their efforts to pass financial legislation and blame the biggest firms for standing in the way of new regulations.

In the last two weeks, the administration has proposed new restrictions on the size and scope of big banks as well as a fee on the largest firms to recoup roughly $90 billion in bailout money.

Still, Republicans believe they have found a hole in the Democratic efforts to regulate Wall Street. And the GOP is attempting to brand Democrats as “faux populists.”

A document obtained on Monday from a GOP strategist targets the campaign contributions from the financial industry to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and the DCCC.

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Consumer Watchdog, the consumer advocacy group, released its own report last week targeting the industry for spending big money on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts.

The report found that the 23 members of the Senate Banking Committee received nearly $42 million in campaign contributions from the industry between 2005 and 2009. Democrats made up seven of the top 10 recipients, the report showed.

Liberal Democratic strategists say the money is simply an effort by the industry to influence the debate.

“You can take the money and vote the bank position or take the money and not vote the bank position,” said Bob Borosage of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future. “The first you’ll be indicted for in the fall elections. The second one, you’ll get a pass. I don’t get the critique.”

On K Street, some financial lobbyists are bristling at Democrats for taking campaign money in private while lashing out at the industry in public.

“I get so tired of eating steaks and drinking expensive wine with the Democratic members of Congress,” said one financial industry lobbyist. “They take our money, assure us that they’ll work with us behind closed doors and then run to the cameras and pretend they don’t know us and even loathe us.”