I joined in a lobbying day in DC organized by Americans for Financial Reform (www.ourfinancialsecurity.org), joining several folks from Delaware, along with folks from across the country (at least Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana, and Massachusetts), most of whom flew in on Tuesday night.
I got up Wednesday morning at 4:40am, got to the Wilmington train station parking garage by 5:15, and we headed out in a minivan by 5:30. Most of our group represented local non-profits, and ‘the little guy.’ I was invited to not only share what I have seen at the Code Purple program that opens our church’s doors to the homeless on cold, winter nights, but also for my knowledge of Wall Street issues, through my work. Additionally, I was asked by the national fee-only™ financial planners organization to promote the amendment that requires brokers who provide investment advice to be held to the higher fiduciary standard, and regulated by the SEC, as a necessary investor protection. Our van got to the Treasury building in DC before 8am, well in advance of our 9am meeting.
Unfortunately, a snafu between the White House and the security at Treasury meant that about a dozen of us were unable to participate in the orientation meeting held by a Treasury staffer. We stood outside, however we were joined by the executive director of AFR, and a White House staffer. We also were able to participate in a 15 minute AFR strategy session, where we learned that the Republican stubborn blockade was close to crumbling, and that if the Republicans uniformly sided with Wall Street during the 12:30pm vote today, Senator Reid would call for an all-nighter, including a fourth cloture vote at 1am. This was a guarded secret for the time being.
When the Treasury meeting completed, we headed to a bus for the ride to Capitol Hill. We prepared to meet with DE Senator Edward (Ted) Kaufman. One of the DE team’s members, Ed Osborne had a story about abuse of a customer by Citizens Bank, and the local NBC affiliate was interested in filming Ed’s discussion with Kaufman. We met with the Senator, WHO WAS WONDERFUL. Our main frustration is that he was 100% on our side, and seemingly needed nothing from us. There was little that we could do to share information that he did not already have, and, as a lame duck, there was no need to provide him additional support at home to combat repercussions of his terrific, principled stand. We had about 20 minutes with him, and an additional 10-15 with his senior staff members.
We then had lunch in a Senate building, and headed to DE Congressman Michael Castle’s office. Castle’s office was wonderful in arranging a meeting with his legislative assistant at the last moment. We had a very constructive meeting, noting our reasons for requesting stronger reform than Castle is currently preferring.
Next we headed to DE Senator Thomas Carper’s office, for a meeting with two of his senior staff. We knew that Carper was largely supportive of the reform bill, but was on the fence on several issues. I pushed for stronger restrictions over the “too big to fail” banks, and when the legislative counsel suggested that the Fed was the best regulator for the banks I noted that the Fed governors are largely made up of bank presidents, and that this arrangement did not serve the American people as well as an independent agency. I also pushed for stronger derivatives regulation, knowing the senators had been lobbied recently from ‘end users’ of derivatives. The banks/brokerages which make large profits from under-regulated derivatives knew that they are currently being portrayed as the bad guys, so they have pushed their customers forward to plead for less regulation, even though better regulation will be quite beneficial to these customers. I pushed Carper’s people for the value of bringing the light of day (transparency) to all derivative trading.
We ended the day at a press conference, with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Robert Casey (D-PA). I was about 5 feet from Senator Sanders when the picture on the front page of today’s Wilmington News Journal was likely taken. The conference was held to announce the abandonment of the Republican’s obstructionist tactics which was preventing debate on the bill. The press conference is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAPyi944LI4, and I was about four feet back (and to the right) of the podium--off camera. Afterwards, I spoke briefly to Senator Casey, noting that I had seen him speak in Downingtown when he was campaigning in 2008 with Barack Obama, when I was canvassing for Obama with UD students. First impression—either Senator Casey is very tall or I am very short!
It was a VERY long day (18 hours or so), in a very busy month for me. Nonetheless, standing up to speak with our legislators (local, state, and national) is the duty of each citizen, and yesterday was my day.
When is your day?