As improbable as it may seem, the nation’s largest banks are even larger now than they were before the 2008 financial crisis, meaning they are still a “too big to fail” risk for our economy. Income inequality is growing with hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs abusing loopholes in our tax code to further enrich themselves. Funding for government services is being slashed when sources of revenue are going untapped like taxing Wall Street trades. Some communities lack even access to basic banking services, leaving them to rely on predatory, high-fee financial services like check cashers.

Against this backdrop, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) led the launch of the Take on Wall Street campaign on Tuesday.

Nearly 40 organizations including Public Citizen, Americans for Financial Reform, the AFL-CIO and Communications Workers of America  have signed on to the new campaign, which seeks to bring much-needed reforms to Wall Street’s seemingly unchecked power and greed.

The five point plan at the center of the campaign would, in the words of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “Make Wall Street work for Main Street, instead of the other way around.”

Here are the proposed reforms:

  1. Close the carried interest loophole that lets billionaire Wall Street money managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or construction workers.
  2. Create a Wall Street speculation tax that would discourage short-term bets and generate billions in new revenue to make college affordable, invest in our infrastructure, and create jobs in our cities.
  3. End “Too Big to Fail” by breaking up the big banks – making them smaller, simpler, and safer.
  4. Stop subsidizing million dollar CEO bonuses by ending the CEO pay tax loophole.
  5. End predatory lending and also expand access to fair consumer banking services through a public option for financial services like postal banking.

The financial sector spends around $1.5 million a day on lobbying and contributions to congressional candidates.

Rep. Ellison recognized this in his remarks, saying, “We are the many and they are the money. We are going to win this fight if we stick to it.”

Join the fight—you can help us take on Wall Street and WIN!

Bret Thompson is the online director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.


On May 11, JP Morgan CEO James Dimon called the president of the nation’s community bank trade association a “jerk” in a live interview. Dimon characterized Camden Fine of the Independent Bankers Association of America in this way following Fine’s assertion that the ill-regarded mega-banks hid behind better-regarded community banks for political cover when lobbying for deregulation.

chaseNOPublic Citizen has voiced critiques similar to Fine’s about the mega-banks. Indeed, Public Citizen urges JP Morgan’s break-up, and filed a shareholder resolution calling on a study of this idea.  So when I attended the May 17 annual meeting of JP Morgan, I expected to draw some colorful rejoinders from CEO Dimon. Instead, the meeting in New Orleans, LA, known to locals as NOLA, was a meeting of “no.”

There was no name calling. In fact, CEO Dimon declared in his prepared remarks that the bank should be less defensive with public criticism. And he declared his firm squarely on the path of moral rectitude, and that misconduct would not be tolerated. He also described the company’s record financial results.

His remarks, which he read at a pace similar to the TV advertisement legal disclaimer for Cialis’ side effects, were a synopsis of his 50-page defense that opens JPMorgan’s annual report.

The comforting words regarding conduct were dissonant with the lengthy rap sheet of recent settlements for claims of misconduct at JPMorgan. They were also dissonant with the meeting venue, which was New Orleans’ Bourbon St. Shareholders attending the meeting needed to slalom there through people sleeping on the sidewalk either because they couldn’t find their way home, or they didn’t have a home; passed strip clubs open for business at 9:30 a.m.; and under awnings advertising alcoholic beverages that you’re welcome to sip on the street.

There was also no victory for shareholders hoping for some basic reforms through six separate proposals that constituted the core of this annual meeting. Public Citizen advanced one of these—the break-up study—and I introduced four others as a courtesy to the proponents who wanted to spare themselves travel expenses. Voting shareholders turned down all these proposals. Partly this is explained by the fact that 13 percent of the shareholders didn’t vote. Most voters are institutions tied into JP Morgan and other banks. Of course it didn’t help that the company uses language that confuses– the ballot didn’t actually say “break-up study,” but “shareholder value committee,” which an institutional voter sifting through hundreds of annual meeting ballots might dismiss as another expensive, needless distraction. Andrew Ackerman of the Wall Street Journal has explored this clever dodge.

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wallstThis month shareholders at Fluor Corporation and NiSource Inc. voted to approve resolutions that require the companies to disclose their political spending. Fluor is a global engineering and construction company and NiSource supplies natural gas and electricity to nearly 4 million customers in seven U.S. states. Support for corporate political spending transparency has been growing nationwide as more and more shareholders demand to know whether their companies are using their investments to engage in potentially risky political behavior or investing in issues that are not aligned with their corporate values.

In a great trend, some companies- more than half of the S&P 100– have moved to voluntarily increase transparency around their political spending, however many still prefer to hide their campaign and lobbying spending from public view. With the majority votes at Fluor and NiSource, shareholders are demanding transparency.

The recent majority votes at Flour and NiSource demonstrate the continued momentum for corporate transparency, but they are also significant because both companies are recipients of major government contracts. Fluor Corporation and its subsidiaries have been awarded over $470 million in federal contracts in fiscal year 2016 alone. NiSource was awarded almost one million dollars in government contracts in 2015 and 2016, and has been awarded almost $12 million since 2011.

A diverse coalition including investment firms, democracy groups, labor unions, and environmental groups have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order that would require all major government contractors to disclose their political spending. As of December 2015, over one million signatures supporting the executive order have been delivered to the White House.

The implications of such an order would be meaningful not just for shareholders in these particular companies but for all Americans. Requiring federal contractors to disclose how they spend money in politics would touch 70% of the Fortune 100 companies. This means that Americans would be able to see if some of the country’s largest companies (and recipients of taxpayer dollars) are wielding undue influence over our elections and policy decisions by Members of Congress intended to influence the contracting process.

In his last State of the Union address President Obama acknowledged the problem that so many Americans have already identified by saying, “we have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”

President Obama has the opportunity to put some muscle behind that promise by issuing an executive order and have a serious impact on money in politics in this country before leaving office. Almost two-thirds of Americans think that corporations have outsized influence in our elections. We recognize that our current system of democracy does not reflect how diverse our nation really is. In the face of inaction in Congress, Americans are relying on President Obama to take a stand for every non-billionaire who wants to run for office, for every small business that wants big business to play fairly, and for every parent who wants their child to grow up with clean water to drink and safe air to breathe. Without reducing the corrupting influence of money in our politics, these voices of everyday Americans will continue to be drowned out by big dollar corporate spenders, including government contractors that are paid by our tax dollars.

Shareholders have taken a stand this month by exerting their right to transparency as an elixir to the problem of money in politics. Investors aren’t the only ones who deserve to know how their money is being spent. Taxpayers should also know what issues and candidates are supported by contractors paid with federal dollars. The President should listen to the growing chorus of Americans calling on him to help restore the balance to our democracy by issuing the executive order today.

Rachel Curley is the democracy associate in Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

About a month ago, the Panama Papers scandal broke onto the international news scene, shining sunlight on the vast numbers of shell companies the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, used to hide assets for wealthy individuals and companies.

The leaker (hacker?) behind the Panama Papers revelations , dubbed John Doe , dumped a tsunami of data on German journalists, who then enlisted the assistance of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to wade through the 11.5 million documents. Because of the vast amount of data, the ICIJ is now turning to crowd-sourcing analysis by publishing a searchable database to allow the public to access the trove of information on secret treasures hidden within shell companies.

Careers are already ending as the exposé shines a light on the dirty little secrets public figures have camouflaged through the use of anonymous shell companies. The Prime Minister of Iceland was forced to step down when his name was associated with the Panama Papers files. The surge of stories has yet to ebb and will likely continue to flood us with information as citizen sleuths uncover additional instances of the rich and famous using Mossack Fonseca’s services to arrange the harboring of their assets from tax authorities, journalists, and other probing eyes.

Many of the world’s elite stash their riches offshore in lush tropical locales like the Bahamas or the British Virgin Islands, but a large number are also buried in companies formed in the deserts of Nevada. The state ranks on the list of top 10 places used by the Panamanian law firm to create shell companies for their clients.

Though flush with famous foreigners’ names like Emma Watson, the actress that played Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger, Americans are conspicuously underrepresented in the 14,000 plus names on Mossack Fonseca client list. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, since the U.S. is already well-established as a tax haven.

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It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) collects worker safety data with a system that is better suited for the Stone Age than the Information Age. Right now, OSHA relies on data sources that are too limited to allow the agency to effectively respond to hazardous workplace conditions. For example, data from the OSHA Data Initiative is typically two to three years old. That simply does not provide a clear picture of current threats to workers. To correct this problem, OSHA just released a rule that will require certain employers to submit workplace injury and illness records electronically on a quarterly basis, ensuring OSHA will have timely and systematic access to occupational hazard data. When the rule is implemented, workers and other members of the public will be able to access the information through a searchable database on OSHA’s website.

This rule is a big deal – it will significantly change the way OSHA monitors and responds to workplace hazards. Here are six reasons to celebrate this new rule:

  1. The rule helps government work more efficiently. With the most up-to-date injury and illness records, OSHA can use its resources to identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk.
  1. With greater efficiency in tracking injuries, we can expect to see improved results in preventing injuries. Once OSHA is able to analyze the greatest risks facing U.S. workers, it can take action to prevent and eliminate those hazards. Workers will inevitably reap the benefit of safer workplaces over time.
  1. Workers and the public can make informed decisions based on the information available. The more information, the better. Having access to injury and illness data on OSHA’s website will enable potential employees to make careful decisions about where to work. Likewise, customers and other members of the public can use this information to evaluate companies before doing business with them.

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