Why Democrats Have to Stop Taking Huge Payouts for Wall Street Speeches

  • President Obama should rescind $400,000 agreement to speak at Wall Street gala for investment firm, Cantor Fitzgerald.
  • Last year, Cantor Fitzgerald affiliates paid over $16 million in fines for money laundering, other crimes. Former Cantor employees are currently on trial for defrauding customers out of millions.
  • If Democrats are ever going to regain the trust and support of the American people, Democratic leaders have to stop giving speeches to Wall Street firms for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

President Obama’s $400,000 speaking deal with Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald is an undeniably sharp rebuke of the progressive “Hope/Change” message he ran on as a candidate in 2008.

Back then, I proudly supported my Illinois Senator when he ran for President. However, I do not support him now in this decision to accept huge payouts from the very industry whose illegal, reckless behavior caused a financial crises that cost regular citizens their jobs, homes, and retirements at no fault of their own, who were then forced into a massive taxpayer bailout overseen by … President Obama.

With so much attention on the white-collar crimes of Goldman Sachs, little attention has been given to Cantor Fitzgerald’s wrongdoing.

Late last year, the Department of Justice announced that “Cantor Gaming” (a Cantor Fitzgerald affiliate) had agreed to pay a fine of over $16 million for illegal gambling and money laundering schemes, what U.S. Attorneys called “the kind of widespread corruption often associated with criminal enterprises.” Terms of the non-prosecution agreement keep corporate officials under federal supervision through 2018.

In December, the DOJ announced a federal grand jury’s indictment of former Cantor Fitzgerald trading director David Demos for defrauding customers out of millions of dollars, including recipients of taxpayer TARP bailout money, charges that could net him up to 120 years in prison.

Why would President Obama agree to speak to a Wall Street firm with a history of illegal behavior, that is currently being monitored by the DOJ, and whose employees are facing criminal prosecution for engaging in the kind of illegal behavior that caused the financial recession?

As has been pointed out, taking money from Wall Street has everything to do with principle and nothing to do with race. We have been calling out this hypocrisy since before Hillary Clinton masqueraded as a populist candidate after pocketing millions from Wall Street for speeches that remain secret.

For the moment, nevermind Republican Presidents and officials who give paid speeches for big bucks, or the current President’s financial conflicts, those are all-together different issues.

The issue-at-hand is: who do Democrats want to represent as a party?, and should they take huge payouts from Wall Street? — pointing fingers at how terrible Republicans are has never been a viable strategy.

Besides, when they go low, we go high, remember?

Establishment articles like “Stop Bashing Obama Over Paid Wall Street Speeches” fail to give even minimal thought to the matter, in making the dubiously regressive claim that politicians who take big payouts from Wall Street “should be praised.”

If Democrats are ever going to regain the trust and support of the American people, Democratic leaders have to stop giving speeches to Wall Street firms for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Giving speeches is one thing. Talking for hundreds of thousands of dollars is another. It’s a bad look for Democrats, for a number of reasons.

PURCHASED LOYALTY

First, when a corporation like Cantor Fitzgerald (or any other) gives a former public official like President Obama large sums of money, that person is less-if-at-all inclined to think, feel, and most importantly, speak critically about the corporation or its sometimes illegal transactions.

Any criticism will be tempered by the force of $400,o00.

In this way, Wall Street banks and other companies that break the law can purchase the loyalty, coupled with the silence, of former public officials.

Fresh out of the White House, President Obama is finally free to speak openly and critically on the economic abuses that he was forced to bail out in 2008, yet he will probably now remain silent.

PURCHASED LEGITIMACY

Second, when a former U.S. President or member of Congress headlines an event, the legitimacy of the Constitutional office they once held carries with them, which in turn lends credibility to that particular business within its industry.

Make no mistake about it, former high-ranking public officials are invited to corporate events as part of a larger coordinated strategy by big businesses to use an official’s “officialness” to help rehabilitate the company’s tarnished image.

It’s a way to signal to investors, “Don’t worry! Our relationships with Government officials are strong.”

“If we did anything wrong, would the President be here?”

At the same time Cantor Fitzgerald employees are facing felony charges for bilking customers out of tens of millions of dollars, President Obama will be joining the firm to help mend its tarnished reputation — whether he knows it or not.

CITIZENS UNITED HYPOCRISY

All three of the 2016 Democratic candidates for President campaigned on a promise of working to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which effectively opened the floodgates of big money into politics.

President Obama himself promised to overturn the ruling with the goal of “restoring democracy.”

When you continually warn voters about the dangerous influence of money in politics, then turn around and take huge payouts from Wall Street banks, you look like a giant hypocrite.

INCOME INEQUALITY HYPOCRISY

Income inequality and wage stagnation are key economic issues for progressives, so when former Democratic officials accept huge payouts for far more than most of their constituents make in several years of work, it makes their advocacy seem hollow, hypocritical, and unpersuasive.

In 2015, the average annual household income in America was just over $50,000, or what Obama will make in 15 minutes of talking to bankers and investors. In one of her paid Wall Street speeches (that still has not been released), then-soon-to-be Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pocketed $675,000, or $11,200 a minute, to headline a Goldman Sachs event.

When citizens of this nation see elected officials getting paid huge amounts of money by Wall Street, it makes them look not only corrupt but completely out-of-touch, which they are.

Right now Trump is working hard to rebrand the GOP as the party of the people, which despite being quite laughable, is very dangerous for Democrats. In part, because he is having some success.

Obama ended his Presidency having disappointed many of his supporters, myself included, who genuinely believed in his capacity to bring about positive change, but now he has a golden opportunity to rebrand himself as a true progressive champion of the people.

However, if he continues to accept what arguably amounts to hush money from Wall Street in exchange for his silence, he will cement his legacy as a corporate oligarch and set back progressive causes for years to come.

For Democrats, now is the time to send a clear message to working-class voters across the country that there is a clear difference between parties, that Democrats, not Republicans, are truly a party of the people.

Trusted leaders like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should be supported when they answer honestly that President Obama’s Wall Street payouts make them uneasy.

You can take money from Wall Street banks who after being bailed out are doing exceptionally well, or you can represent the American people who have been hurting for years, but you can’t do both.

This is a choice Democrats must make.

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