“There are moments in our lives when we have an opportunity to ignite tremendous positive change—not just in the lives of the customers and communities we serve every day, but in our country.”
Those words, written by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, have never resonated more than they do right now. Shareholders at Starbucks have filed a resolution asking the company to refrain from election-related spending. That means no giving to super PACs, no checks to party committees and no money for trade associations and nonprofits that spend in politics. Schultz would be wise to consider adopting the policy because it represents a real chance to spark some much-needed positive change in the way Washington, D.C., does business.
In 2011, Schultz began researching election spending and was aghast at the ever-escalating price tag to run for office. Frustrated with partisan politics and the debt ceiling fiasco, Schultz called on his fellow CEOs to boycott campaign donations until our nation’s leaders dropped their dysfunction and got to work on the people’s agenda. The response he got was impressive: More than 50 business leaders took up his pledge to forgo giving to politicians.
Two years later, the country is still reeling from a record-breaking $7 billion election spending frenzy. Now is the time for Schultz to take the next step with his pledge and enshrine a “no political spending policy” at Starbucks. Shareholders across the country are anxious for reassurance that their money is not going to fund sleazy attack ads, and the American people are ready for a government that actually works for them – not corporations.
For investors, the appeal of “no spending” resolutions is obvious. These policies provide the ultimate assurance that shareholder money is not being carelessly tossed into the ring or used to advance the perverse political interests of CEOs and executives. And research suggests that political donations are associated with stunted long-term growth at some firms. These reasons are precisely why shareholder resolutions calling for disclosure, lobby disclosure and refraining from spending have steadily increased every year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.
Of course, high-priced elections don’t just have consequences for investors. For lawmakers whose campaigns and careers rise and fall on the whims of funders, big donations can close paths to compromise before they are even considered. Being tethered to donors can limit lawmakers’ ability to ask the hard questions, propose the tough amendments and cast the critical votes often needed to create real change. Our politicians’ inability to find common ground and work for the majority of Americans stems in part from positions hardened by a system that permits unlimited campaign expenditures and makes lawmakers indebted to corporate and wealthy funders who do not reflect the diversity of average Americans. The failed attempt to stop the sequester is just the latest example that dysfunction in the nation’s capital is rampant.
Elizabeth Warren speaks at Public Citizen at an event last fall
Some Republicans seem genuinely to adore Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray.
“I think you have done a wonderful job so far in carrying out your duties,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) during Cordray’s nomination hearing earlier this week.
But Coburn – and 42 other Senate Republicans – have threatened to filibuster Cordray’s nomination unless the consumer protection agency he directs is fundamentally weakened.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) – who originated the idea of a consumer protection agency with a mission to crack down on the banking industry cons and rip-offs – also attended the hearing.
Here’s what Sen. Warren said about the 43 Republican senators who pledged to obstruct Cordray’s nomination:
I see nothing here but a filibuster threat against Director Cordray as an attempt to weaken the consumer agency … I think the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, bad for credit unions, for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market.
We couldn’t be more excited about the new constitutional amendment proposal introduced today by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) to end unlimited and undisclosed corporate financing of American elections. The amendment proposal is titled the “Democracy Is For People” Amendment, after Public Citizen’s amendment campaign of the same name.
Public Citizen said that both lawmakers once again are showing their creative leadership in the campaign for a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Sanders and Deutch were at the forefront of the campaign immediately following the decision, and they continue their leadership today.
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, pictured above in front of the U.S. Capitol Building leading a protest on the first anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, said:
“The Democracy is for People Amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ted Deutch to overturn Citizens United will eliminate unaccountable corporate spending in our elections and restore governmental authority over campaign spending to the people. Democracy is rule by the people, after all, not rule by Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
Activists participating in civil disobedience outside of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Headquarters. Photo via United Students Against Sweatshops
By Sean Reilly Wood
Six years after housing prices began their perilous drop in January 2007, the negative equity of all underwater mortgages within the United States is still a whopping $689 billion. Neither Congress, President Obama, or the Federal Housing Finance Agency have sufficiently addressed this ongoing crisis.
Instead, students are stepping up.
On Wednesday, February 27, more than 200 students rallied at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, against Wells Fargo and home foreclosures. The previous day, four members of the student group “Kick Wall Street Off Campus” (KWOC) had met with representatives from Wells Fargo and the Macalester administration to demand that Wells Fargo implement a principal reduction policy. Under this policy, all underwater mortgages would be renegotiated to current market value. In a post-crisis market, homeowners would be given a fair value for their house and the banks – who caused the crisis – would take a slight hit to their assets in return for long term loan stability.
Unsurprisingly, Wells Fargo refused. At the Wednesday rally, students asked Macalester to end financial dealings with Wells Fargo, objecting to their college’s affiliation with a firm which not only helped cause the housing crisis but has continued abusive policies in the wake of it, refusing to renegotiate loans for struggling homeowners. Afterwards, students went into Minneapolis proper and rallied a second time at the foreclosed home of Gayle Lindsey before marching to the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Headquarters.
Eugene Scalia: Meet Akshat Tewary.
On Feb. 26, 2013, attorney Tewary, a member of Occupy the SEC, filed a lawsuit against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other bank regulators to compel them to obey the law and finalize the Volcker Rule. That’s the part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that bars banks gambling with depositors’ money. Dodd-Frank mandated that the regulators, including the Federal Reserve, Comptroller of the Currency, FDIC, SEC and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), complete this rule by July 2012.
They have not.
Meanwhile, the banking industry and its customers remain at peril, argues Tewary. Specifically, he worries that banks might lose their deposits if they gamble them away in high-stakes bets.
Congress instructed the regulators to halt such reckless bets. “Plaintiffs suffer the risk of irreparable injury to their deposits by reason of Defendants’ non-action,” Tewary writes. Recall that JPMorgan, supposedly the best managed firm on the planet (according to the bank), lost upwards of $7 billion in depositor money last year on failed bets.
The Tewary lawsuit becomes the first litigation initiated to hasten, as opposed to delay, rulemakings from Dodd-Frank.