On June 22, Public Citizen was joined by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon, former congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina, MIT Professor Simon Johnson, University of Maryland Professor Rena Steinzor, and Marcus Stanley of Americans for Financial Reform to celebrate the release of Public Citizen’s latest publication. Too Big: The Mega-Banks Are Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail, and Too Big to Manage lays out the reasons why the current regulatory system has allowed mega-banks to remain too large.
Too Big immediately pinpoints the threat to American citizens’ interests as big banks continue to operate without adequate regulation:
“Americans suffered from the financial crisis of the 2008. Adding insult to injury, Americans were compelled to finance bailouts of banks responsible for the crash on the theory that permitting any to fail would cause a cascade of bankruptcies and inflict cataclysmic damage to the economy.
Yet today, the largest banks are even bigger than they were then.”
The book, by Bart Naylor, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division’s financial policy advocate, focuses on commonsense solutions, in the form of regulatory and legislative reforms, to stem the unencumbered power and greed of the mega-banks.
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.
Public 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.
By Michell K. McIntyre
Each year, Congress and the White House must pass a series of appropriations bills – spending bills – that fund our government for the year ahead. If they fail to do so before the current year’s funding expires, the government shuts down until funding is restored.
The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have their own appropriations committees, made up of 12 subcommittees, whose job is to draft spending bills that fund different parts of the government. The danger is that harmful poison pill riders may be attached to any or all of these bills.
Here are ten reasons why ideological riders don’t belong in appropriations legislation.
1. The budget process is not the place to shove unpopular and damaging legislation down the throats of the unwitting public. Examples: Restrictions to women’s reproductive health and the application of broad religious refusal language that would allow employers, insurers and health care providers to deny others access to health services are unpopular and controversial.
Meet Mr. Ticker. He’s the hypothetical rogue banker described in Washington’s newly proposed rule to reform Wall Street pay.
Six federal agencies charged with overseeing Wall Street — from credit unions to mega-banks — are proposing rules to implement Section 956 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This section charges them to write rules that prevent “excessive” pay packages that lead to “inappropriate risk-taking.”
The proposed rule spans 280 pages, most of which consists of explanation of the rule. The actual rule is about 20 of these pages. In an effort to communicate in “plain English,” the agencies describe hypothetical bankers Ms. Ledger (who’s honest) and Mr. Ticker (who’s not).
In the inevitably prudish lexicon of the banking agencies, “Mr. Ticker is a significant risk-taker who is the senior manager of a trader and a trading desk that engaged in inappropriate risk-taking in calendar year 2021, which was discovered on March 1, 2024. The activity of the trader, and several other members of the same trading desk, resulted in an enforcement proceeding against ABC and the imposition of a significant fine.”
Restated, Mr. Ticker and his team manipulated markets, and successfully hid it from the board for three years.
Corporate crime shouldn’t pay. And company executives certainly shouldn’t be given bonuses when their company commits one of the most outrageous environmental crimes in memory.
But that’s exactly what Volkswagen executives are seeking.
News reports say executives at VW – the company reeling from the emissions-cheating scandal – are refusing to forego scheduled bonuses.
Volkswagen has admitted to installing software designed to evade emissions rules. The company deliberately deceived consumers and regulators, consciously poisoning the air with gases that cause respiratory illness and exacerbate climate change.
The fallout from the scandal, executives say, threatens the company’s very existence – yet those same executives want to collect bonuses!
It’s as if the executives at the shipping company that owned the Titantic demanded bonuses a few months after the ocean liner went down.
The decision to award the bonuses will not be formally published until April 28, so there’s still time for VW to get some sense.
Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen