If ever you doubted that our obscene campaign finance regime constitutes a form of legalized bribery, consider this: Reuters reports today that officials at top Wall Street banks recently convened to discuss how they could convince Democrats "to soften their party's tone" toward the financial industry, and among the options now under consideration is halting campaign donations to Senate Democrats unless they rein in progressive populists like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
The banks represented at the Washington meeting included Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, according to the report, and though the idea of withholding campaign contributions did not arise at that gathering, it has since been floated in conversations among representatives from the banks.
While the action would only be taken against Senate Democrats, the report states that Democrats are fretting about larger repercussions:
The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material
Moreover, banks' hostility toward Warren, who is not a presidential candidate, will not have a direct impact on the presumed Democratic front runner in the White House race, Hillary Clinton. That's because their fund-raising groups focus on congressional races rather than the presidential election
Still, political strategists say Clinton could struggle to raise money among Wall Street financiers who worry that Democrats are becoming less business friendly.
Citigroup, Reuters notes, has already chosen not to contribute to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee "over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power," while JPMorgan has pared back its donations. Goldman Sachs already sent the DSCC its $15,000 check, while Bank of America has yet to donate.
There are two salient points to be made here: First, while only the most naive mind could consider it surprising, that Democrats are clutching their pearls over a possible drought of Wall Street funds underscores how poisoned our campaign finance system has become, and it speaks volumes about the plutocratic capture of American politics. Moreover, the report further puts the lie to Chief Justice John Roberts' apparently straight-faced assertion, writing his opinion in the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions are not intended to influence lawmakers' official duties.
“Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption,” Roberts wrote. “Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”
Yet here we have an industry that may well cut off a political party if it does not jettison proposals like breaking up "Too Big To Fail" institutions, reinstating the Glass-Steagall law separating commercial and investment banking, and reining in unscrupulous speculation. These proposals have galvanized the Warren wing of the Democratic Party, which may be emboldened but is far from dominant. Look no further than Wall Street's affinity for the party's likely presidential nominee, or the identity of the Democrats' potential next leader in the Senate, a top recipient of financial industry contributions.
For Democratic neoliberals who have proven all too eager to forge an unholy alliance with the malefactors of great wealth, this Wall Street shakedown will only redouble their commitment to keep the financial powers-that-be placated.