By Peter Schroeder - 12/04/13 12:23 PM EST
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling on the heads of the nation’s biggest banks to voluntarily disclose how much those institutions are giving to think tanks — one day after her preferred policies were publicly criticized by a think tank.
The noted Wall Street critic argued Wednesday that those banks have an obligation to tell the public when they are backing an outside think tank that produces research and analysis often relied on by policymakers. Her letter to Wall Street CEOs came one day after a think tank liberals criticize as a "Wall Street front group" published an editorial blasting her preferred policies.
The letter came one day after Warren was singled out in a Wall Street Journal editorial written by think tank leaders for pushing “reckless” populist policies.
The op-ed, authored by Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler of Third Way, argues that populist policies from the likes of Warren and New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, like expanding Social Security, are politically misguided and a policy “fantasy.”
They argued that if Democrats took this approach in the coming election, "Nothing would be more disastrous."
Third Way bills itself as a centrist Democratic think tank, but liberals have often criticized the group as under the influence of Wall Street. After the editorial was published, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee blasted it as a "Wall Street front group." Several of the group’s board of trustees, including its chairman, chairman emeritus, and vice chairman, work or worked in the financial sector.
In her first letter to bank CEOs since becoming a senator, Warren noted that banks are required by law to disclose the dollars they spend on lobbying efforts. She cautioned that think tank research, if conducted with heavy backing from the financial industry, could serve as “little more than another form of corporate lobbying.”
In other words, banks could be skirting public knowledge of their advocacy for an issue by pumping funds into think tanks for preferential research, as opposed to outright lobbying, she argued.
She sent the letter to the heads of JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.
“You can make enormous contributions that threaten both the independence and public credibility of the work of think tanks out of the public view,” she wrote.
Warren acknowledged that there is no legal requirement that banks disclose such contributions, and nothing to suggest banks are not free to give to think tanks, nor are think tanks banned from accepting such contributions. But she argued the transparency rules on lobbying should also apply to any “indirect efforts” to influence policymaking, including think tank contributions.