Hold Wall Street Accountable.

AuthorKuhlenbeck, Mike

The race for a 2020 Democratic presidential nominee has drawn forth more than two dozen candidates seeking to unseat Donald Trump and bring about a well-deserved end to his administration. Yet the topic of Wall Street regulation has largely been absent from the discussion--and the financial sector as a whole would like to keep it that way.

In the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession, millions of people lost their jobs, homes, savings, pensions, and retirement funds. Many were never able to get back on their feet.

Meanwhile, the heads of the financial institutions that caused the crash were bailed out when Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Signed into law by President George W. Bush, the banks were bailed out with more than $700 billion supplied by taxpayers, with little-to-no oversight as to how that money could be used.

After the bailouts, public outrage reached a boiling point. The chief executive officers of Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York Mellon, and State Street Corporation were called to testify before Congress, where they deflected responsibility for the crash.

"Human beings committed the misconduct, senior officials oversaw and authorized and directed it. These were not immaculately conceived crimes," says Bartlett Naylor, former chief of investigations for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, who now works as a financial policy advocate for the nonprofit group Public Citizen. "These Wall Street bankers crashed the economy and preyed on mortgage borrowers because they were paid to do so. They had financial incentives to sell a subprime loan to someone who qualified for a prime loan or to load up on a borrower who is unable to repay, because they made money doing it, all the way up the chain."

In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. In 2011, the Obama Administration created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "to provide a single point of accountability for enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace."

While groups like Public Citizen welcomed the reforms included in Dodd-Frank, Naylor says the bill did not go far enough, leaving Americans "vulnerable to half a dozen mega-banks" that are, as has been said elsewhere, "too big to fail, too big to jail, and too big to regulate."

Dodd-Frank did not break up the banks. It did not implement definitive limits on risk-taking investments. And it left too much up to regulators' discretion.

In 1989, the country had been hit by another banking collapse which prompted another multi-billion-dollar bailout. The Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal led to the failure of more than 1,000 of the country's savings and loans, causing the largest financial crisis, up to that time, since the Great Depression. The S&L crisis was smaller in scope than what occurred years later, but it led to the prosecution and conviction of those responsible.

"In that crisis, the savings and loan regulators made over 30,000 criminal referrals, and this produced over 1,000 felony convictions in cases designated as 'major' by the Department of Justice," said William K. Black, a law professor and white-collar criminologist at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, in a 2013 interview. "We had a 90 percent conviction rate, which is the greatest success against elite white-collar crime (in terms of prosecution) in history."

By contrast, zero senior bankers and executives were prosecuted, let alone convicted, for their role in the 2008 crash. Says Naylor, "There should have been thousands of bankers [going] to jail."

The Federal Reserve Statistical Release from March 31, 2019, ranked the top insured U.S. chartered commercial banks based on their assets, and the list includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup...

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