Big Money’s Conquest of Democratic Party

As Hillary Clinton finally clinches the Democratic nomination, the big question facing Democrats is: are they now the party of big money and elite special interests or will the Sanders’ revolt live on and grow, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Return with us now to the saga of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the soul of the Democratic Party. First, a quick recap: Rep. Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, chair of the Democratic National Committee, also has been an advocate for the payday loan industry. The website Think Progress even described her as the “top Democratic ally” of “predatory payday lenders.” You know — the bottom-feeding bloodsuckers of the working poor. Yes, them.

Low-income workers living from paycheck to paycheck, especially women and minorities, are the payday lenders’ prime targets — easy pickings because they’re often desperate. Twelve million Americans reportedly borrow nearly $50 billion a year through payday loans, at rates that can soar above 300 percent, sometimes even beyond 500 percent.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confronts Sen. Bernie Sanders in Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, 2016.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confronts Sen. Bernie Sanders in Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, 2016.

Bethany McLean at The Atlantic recently reported that the government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) studied millions of payday loans and found that “67 percent went to borrowers with seven or more transactions a year and that a majority of those borrowers paid more in fees than the amount of their initial loan.”

Yet when the CFPB was drawing up new rules to make it harder for payday predators to feast on the poor, Rep. Wasserman Schultz co-sponsored a bill to delay those new rules by two years. How, you ask, could the head of the party’s national committee embrace such an appalling exploitation of working people?

Just follow the money. Last year, the payday loan industry spent $3.5 million lobbying; and as we wrote two weeks ago, in Wasserman Schultz’s home state, since 2009, payday lenders have bought protection from Democrats and Republicans alike by contributing $2.5 million or so to candidates from both parties, including her. That’s how “Representative” Wasserman Schultz, among others, wound up representing the predators instead of the poor.

That position became a major issue in her campaign for reelection to the House this year — she has a primary opponent for the first time since she entered Congress — and was even threatening the prospect of her continuing as DNC chair and presiding over the Democratic National Convention next month in Philadelphia. More than 40,000 have signed a petition calling for her removal from that post.

She had become a symbol of the failure of Democratic elites to understand that there is an uprising in the land. Millions of Americans are rebelling against the leadership of both parties. They are fed up with inside-the-Beltway politicians who pay only lip service to the deep needs of everyday people and the country; fed up with incumbents who ask for their votes, are given them in good faith, and then return to Washington to do the bidding of the donor class and its lobbyists.

The GOP Revolt

Donald Trump gets it. He has roiled and humiliated and conquered an out-of-touch Republican establishment in Washington that also ignored the popular uprising against corporate domination and crony capitalism, and now GOP titans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, spear carriers for Big Money, are being hauled around the talk-show circuit in Trump’s tumbrel, eating crow and swearing fealty to the misogynistic, bigoted and pathologically lying brute who bestrides their party.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Democratic insiders like Wasserman Schultz, however, continued to whistle past the graveyard, believing that the well-funded and well-connected Clinton machine — and general fear of a Trump regime — were enough to carry them to victory in November, despite the grass-roots disgust with a party that reeks of rot from the top.

Once the champions of people who came home from work with hands dirty from toil and sweat, too many establishment Democrats went over to the dark side, taking up the cause of the well-manicured executives (think: Goldman Sachs) who write the checks and the mercenaries who deliver them (for a substantial cut, of course).

The lust for loot, which now defines the Democratic establishment, became pronounced in the Bill Clinton years, when the Clinton-friendly Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) abandoned its liberal roots and embraced “market-based solutions” that led to deregulation, tax breaks, and subsidies for the 1 percent. Seeking to fill coffers emptied by the loss of support from a declining labor movement, Democrats rushed into the arms of big business and crony capitalists.

Another case in point (and, alas, there are many): the Democratic governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy, who seems to treat his state’s corporate residents far better than the 1 in 10 of his citizens who live at or below the poverty line.

The Rich Get Richer

At International Business Times last week, investigative reporter David Sirota analyzed the proposed merger of Cigna and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, a deal that would create the biggest health insurance company in the country. Cigna is based in Connecticut and Katharine Wade, the state’s insurance commissioner, appointed by Governor Malloy, is a former Cigna lobbyist with deep family ties to the company.

Mr. Moneybags from the "Monopoly" game

Mr. Moneybags from the “Monopoly” game

Sirota reported, “Malloy’s decision to appoint Wade to such a powerful regulatory post on the eve of the merger was not made in a vacuum,” Sirota reported. “It came after employees of Cigna, its lobbying firm Robinson & Cole and Anthem delivered more than $1.3 million to national and state political groups affiliated with Malloy, including the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), the Connecticut Democratic Party, Malloy’s own gubernatorial campaign and a political action committee supporting Connecticut Democrats [our italics].

“Since Malloy’s first successful run for governor in the 2010 election cycle, donors from the insurance companies and the lobbying firm have given more than $2 million to Malloy-linked groups, according to the figures compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine and the National Institute on Money In State Politics. Almost half that cash has come in since 2015, the year the merger was announced.”

Sirota now reports that since his investigation first was published, the state has “formally denied open records requests for information about their meetings with Cigna and Anthem, and declared that ‘any’ documents about the health insurance companies’ proposed merger that haven’t already been made public will be kept secret.” His FOIA request was turned down “one day after Anthem requested [state insurance commissioner] Wade approve an average 26 percent increase in health insurance premiums for individual plans.” So much for transparency.

And while we’re in Connecticut, let’s also take a look at what Malloy is doing for the world’s biggest hedge fund — Bridgewater Associates, based in his state, with an estimated worth of $150 billion. The founder of the firm, Ray Dalio, is the richest man in Connecticut, by one estimate weighing in at $14.3 billion.

Dalio made $1.4 billion in 2015 alone, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine. That same year, his top two executives pulled in $250 million each.  Yet as part of Connecticut’s campaign to keep companies from leaving the state, Malloy is taking $22 million of the public’s money and giving it to Dalio to stay put.

You might think a Democratic governor would have thrown down the gauntlet and told Bridgewater’s top three, “Get outta here!  You guys made almost $2 billion among yourselves. Shake your piggy bank or look under your sofa cushions for the $22 million; we’re not milking the public for it.”

But no, Malloy and his fellow Democrats buckled. Buckled to the one-tenth of the one-tenth of the one-hundredth percent of the rich. Ordinary taxpayers will now ante up.

The Democratic Convention

So given all of that, guess who’s the chairman of the platform committee for the upcoming Democratic National Convention? Right: Dan Malloy, governor of Connecticut, subsidizer of billionaires. Guess who named him? Right again: Wasserman Schultz, “top Democratic ally” of “predatory payday lenders.” We’re not making this up.

Not only will Malloy be presiding over the priorities of the Democratic platform at the convention next month, he doubtless will be making the rounds with Wasserman Schultz and other party elites as they genuflect before the corporate sponsors and lobbyists she has invited to pay for the lavish fun-and-games that will surround the coronation. Many of those corporate sponsors and lobbyists have actively lobbied against progressive policies like health-care reform and a Wall Street cleanup and even contributed large sums to Republicans. Yes, we know, shocking.

So take the planks in the platform and the platitudes and promises in the speeches with a grain of salt.  It’s all about the money. Except when it’s not. Except for those moments when ordinary people rise up and declare: “Not this time!” Which brings us back to predatory lenders and their buddy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.

Look around: There’s an uprising in the land, remember, and it isn’t going away after Hillary Clinton, now the presumptive nominee, is crowned. This year even Wasserman Schultz couldn’t ignore the decibel level of an aroused public. Unaccustomed to a challenge in the Democratic “wealth primary” where money usually favors incumbents, she now finds herself called to account by an articulate opponent who champions working people, Tim Canova.

Across the country tens of thousands of consumer advocates — and tens of thousands of other progressives angry at her perceived favoritism toward Hillary Clinton — have been demanding that Wasserman Schultz resign as the party’s chair or be dumped before the convention opens Philadelphia.

So last week the previously tone-deaf Wasserman Schultz perked up, did an about-face and announced she will go along with the proposed new rules on payday lending after all.  At first blush, that’s good; the rules are a step in the right direction. But all that lobbying cash must have had some effect, because the new rules only go so far.  A New York Times editorial calls them “a lame response” to predatory loans and says the final version of the new regulations “will need stronger, more explicit consumer protections for the new regulatory system to be effective.”

More Scams

Nick Bourke, director of small-dollar loans for the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a man who closely follows these things and got to the heart of the matter:  Not only do the proposed new rules “fall short,” they will allow payday lenders to lock out attempts at lower-cost bank loans.

His judgment is stark: “As drafted, the CFPB rule would allow lenders to continue to make high-cost loans, such as a line of credit with a 15-percent transaction fee and 299-percent interest rate, or a $1,250 loan on which the borrower would repay a total of $3,700 in fees, interest and principal,” Bourke wrote. “These and many other high-cost payday installment loans are already on the market in most states, and they will thrive if the regulation takes effect without change.”

Nonetheless, the new rules were improvement enough for Allied Progress, an organization that has taken on Wasserman Schultz in Florida’s late August primary, to declare victory. And they were enough for Wasserman Schultz to do a 180-degree turn which she clearly hopes will not too dramatically reveal her hypocrisy.

“It is clear to me,” she said, “that the CFPB strikes the right balance and I look forward to working with my constituents and consumer groups as the CFPB works toward a final rule.”

All well and good, but if she survives her primary to return to Washington, be sure to keep the lights on in those rooms where the final version of the rules are negotiated. A powerful member of Congress with support from a Democrat in the White House could seriously weaken a law or a rule when the outcome is decided behind closed doors and money whispers in the ear of a politician supplicant: “I’m still here. Remember. Or else.”

But the times, they really may be a-changing, as the saga of Wasserman Schultz reveals. You can be deaf to the public’s shouts for only so long. The insurgency of popular discontent that has upended politics this year will continue no matter the results in November. For much too long now it’s been clear that money doesn’t just rule democracy, it is democracy.

Until we prove it isn’t.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/wasserman-schultz-has-a-change-of-heart-but-too-little-too-late/.]

15 comments for “Big Money’s Conquest of Democratic Party

  1. Comment
    June 10, 2016 at 09:15

    We have seen how it has been Alleged that the Republican Presidential nominee is said to have uttered a racist comment, but they have also said that Donald Trump is Not a racist, and so this is why care should be exercised on how a comment is made so as to Not give any impression of possible racism.

    It would have been better to use the Template of saying that he had the impression that Judge Curiel was Biased and Resistant against him, and that he wanted Journalists to examine whether it was because some of the Close Associations of Judge Curiel were putting pressure on the Judge to act Unethically for some as yet unknown reason or reasons.

    It could be mentioned that People hope that it was Not because of Bribery or Blackmail.

    It could easily be that the Republicans want the the Democrats to be more Biased on Donald Trump with regards to Judge Curiel, in order to reaffirm the Already Known Bias, and the Democrats may go into Highly Deception mode by finding a means to have Trump University found Innocent.

    There are People for Good Reasons who think that both the Republicans and the Establishment Democrats want Hillary Clinton to be President, and that Donald Trump is being used by the Republicans to make Hillary Clinton appear to be better that the Republicans, because of what will be portrayed as Donald Trump’s big mouth and big ego, but there are Many People who think that this is better that Hillary Clinton’s Lying mouth and her even bigger ego.

    They Know that Hillary Clinton is the Establishment’s First Preference for President, and that the Anti Establishment American Social Democrats should Vote Republican before they vote for Hillary Clinton for this and other Reasons if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s nominee.

    A Presidential Candidate of any Political can portray some level of confidence of Victory by Not arguing too much with anyone, and by showing that they are willing to at times take advice from others, and with only name calling their Political Rivals.

    Donald Trump has always been an Employer who gives orders, and he is seeking to be a servant or an employee who is under orders by the Public, and the Clintons have Refined how to be Dictators while appearing to be Public Servants by means of their lying smooth words which are spoken mildly and gently most of the times in order to Deceive Voters.

    And they could think that it is possible that the Clintons placed miniature cameras and listening devices near the Republican Presidential nominee and that he is now her Puppet, as the Clintons have done with much of the Democratic Party and the American Mainstream Media.

    The American Social Democrats are hoping that Senator Sanders is Not a sheepdog and a stooge for the Establishment, but it looks like Senator Sanders is a sheepdog, and they think that the best way to Represent his supporters is Not to bow to Corruption and to the Establishment at http://www.blackagendareport.com/bernie-sanders-sheepdog-4-hillary .

    They want Senator Sanders to say that for Many Reasons including the Rigging of the Democratic Primaries that it is Unconscionable for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee, and that the Superdelegates should All Vote for him, because the November Elections will be a Referendum on whether it is conscionable for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee.

    This means that the American Social Democrats who Cannot be Deceived or Corrupted will Vote Republican before they vote for Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton has Already been Co President for 2 terms and so it Unconstitutional and Improper for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party nominee.

    There could be People who think that the Republicans should have Political Advertisements that speak of the Democratic Primaries being Rigged and that it is Unconscionable to American Social Democrats for Hillary Clinton to represent Democrats, and that the Election is a Referendum on this.

    This means that the American Social Democrats who Cannot be Deceived or Corrupted will Vote Republican before they vote for Hillary Clinton, and the Republicans should have Political Advertisements that speak of the Democratic Primaries being Rigged and that it is Highly Improper to American Social Democrats for Hillary Clinton to represent Democrats, and that the Election is a Referendum on this.

    This means that the American Social Democrats who Cannot be Deceived or Corrupted will Vote Republican before they vote for Hillary Clinton, and the Republican should have Political Advertisements that speak of the Democratic Primaries being Rigged and that it is to American Social Democrats for Hillary Clinton to represent Democrats, and that the Election is a Referendum on this to Save the Self Respect of Americans and the Reputation of America and to provide Honest and Competent Government.

  2. nubwaxer
    June 8, 2016 at 19:12

    of course moyers is right but what does he prose to do to prevent the media from giving donald $2 BILLION in free air and print? there’s also the fact that bernie had plenty of money but nowhere near the amount of campaign organization that hillary built up probably even before 2008.

  3. rosemerry
    June 8, 2016 at 17:31

    Why is it that the United States is allowed to pretend it has any claim to “democracy”, or “free speech” (not of corporations or money, but the 310 million real humans in the nation) yet can have alleged Representatives behaving like this, governors like Cuomo, Christie et al , police killing citizens day after day, the POTUS using drones to pick out “bad guys” plus hundreds of others anywhere an “enemy” is suspected, media parrot the lies about Ukraine, Russia, Iran to fool the public.

  4. Bill Bodden
    June 8, 2016 at 15:17

    Corruption in the Democratic and Republican parties began when they were founded. It is just worse and more blatant today. And, as the old saying goes, “All that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” We have lots of good people in this nation, but too many are like the “good Germans” who were silent when Hitler and his Nazis took over. Deja vu all over agaih?

  5. Ol' Hippy
    June 8, 2016 at 14:36

    I wish I was younger and in good health to help rise up in a systematic revolt of the whole corrupt system that has rained poverty down on the American worker. Bernie helped wake the youth up to the total takeover by the corporate and financial thieves in what amounts to legal extortion. How much longer can the house of cards go before the final meltdown? They, both houses, can’t keep borrowing out of the insane debt accrued over many administrations whilst the .1% enjoys the fruits of their endeavors by careful lobbying with lot’s of cash. Then the war machine that becomes the weapon of the new boss, what will happen with a new hawk at the helm? Trump is just a mirror that reflects the attitudes of the particular audience he’s addressing, and probably would be used as Bush II was to do the neocons bidding. Things haven’t looked this bad since the early 70’s with two wars and a corrupt criminal running tough with HRC’s advocate H. Kissinger. What could be worse? We’ll see soon.

  6. Zachary Smith
    June 8, 2016 at 14:33

    Queen Hillary will shed her ‘liberal’ camouflage just as soon as it’s humanly possible to do so. Count on it.

    • Bill Bodden
      June 8, 2016 at 15:11

      Check her comments and associates on November 9, 2016. That is when the truth will be obvious.

    • GM
      June 9, 2016 at 23:51

      As though her AIPAC speech were not clear enough.

  7. Tom Welsh
    June 8, 2016 at 11:28

    “As Hillary Clinton finally clinches the Democratic nomination, the big question facing Democrats is: are they now the party of big money and elite special interests or will the Sanders’ [sic] revolt live on and grow…?”

    I would think that, As Hillary Clinton finally clinches the Democratic nomination, the big question facing Democrats is: will the FBI choose this moment to swoop in and arrest her on criminal charges? And, if so, where does that leave the world’s finest political system?

  8. Abe
    June 8, 2016 at 11:23

    “Donald Trump gets it. He has roiled and humiliated and conquered an out-of-touch Republican establishment in Washington”

    Wrong.

    Concocted by the Republican Party Machine, the Trump “populist insurgency” meme continues to be parroted by clueless right-wing and left-wing pundits.

    • Zachary Smith
      June 8, 2016 at 14:39

      My worries about Trump just won’t go away, and I’m not the only one thinking ‘bad’ thoughts about the man. Today there was this at the xymphora site:

      I knew it was Trump’s plan to throw the election – as per the Bill Clinton golf course scheme – when he started nattering about abortion after he had eliminated all the evangelical candidates, and his weird free-form attacks on the Trump U judge just confirm the suspicion (note also his complete disinterest in building any kind of professional campaign apparatus). Trump’s 70, and if he wins the election he will spend the rest of his life pandering to hillbillies and begging from xxxx, to the almost complete exclusion of his regular grifting businesses. This can’t be an appealing prospect.

      Pardon the censoring, but the guy I’m quoting is a bit fanatical about a particular ethnic group.

      Otherwise, I obviously share his concerns.

      About the only thing that’ll save us is Hillary getting indicted, and as things stand that’s a mighty slender reed.

  9. M.
    June 8, 2016 at 10:13

    Thank you. I remember when I first started seeing these businesses. I wondered if these were like the loan sharks in the old television shows I grew up on. Would they break their legs if they didn’t pay? They probably wouldn’t need to if they were charging 300-500% interest. I didn’t realize it was part of a bigger economic slide, a bigger predatory everything. I was so busy working, going to school, teaching and enjoying life. When I wasn’t going to school or teaching I worked at the local teaching hospital in Admitting and ultimately Financial Counseling. What a euphemism! We would look at income and assets and insurance. Many had very little in the way of income and assets, especially migrant workers. (I received a twelve cent differential for interpreting in Spanish when needed in the hospital and clinics and ER and while doing my regular work.) It’s when I first heard of patients with long term illnesses, often cancer, who had worked a lifetime and at one time had insurance, losing their homes to pay for their bills. I wondered how could that be? That couldn’t be right! I met many women with debilitating feminine conditions who were considered to have preexisting conditions, and therefore not allowed in for treatment. I guess one of the ultimate preexisting conditions in the United States is to be a female or a person of color or poor or a person of modest means. I remember the “Friday night dumping” of patients from the private hospitals when welfare coverage had run out. So much for the hippocratic oath. There was always the back and forth between our office and the insurance companies and the nurse’s station for authorization of days. This was in the days before insurance companies hired nurses to do much of this.

    Now we have the Affordable Care Act. It does do some good things. I think we can do a lot better. Those predatory insurance companies are still making out like bandits. My sister’s family will pay about $20,000.00 this year in premiums for herself, her husband and a daughter who has graduated from college but not yet found gainful employment. She and her husband are retired. I think back to the constant refrain in the mainstream media, including NPR, that we were experiencing the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of the world (?). I guest the predators keep finding ways to steal all that they can, “legally,” of course. Another mantra was that we didn’t pay much for food, so we could pay more. I noted food prices rising steadily. (I asked a Costco employee what was going on? He said, “We’re not the only ones.” How could the cost of food not be part of the inflationary index? I guess it eliminates the need for Cost of Living Adjustments. …all with the support of Republican and Democrat alike.

    I guess we could go on. Thank you again.

    • Bart
      June 8, 2016 at 13:17

      On rising food prices, this comes from the BLS on the CPI’s “volatile” items;

      “In addition to the All Items CPI, BLS publishes thousands of other consumer price indexes. One such index is called “All items less food and energy”. Some users of CPI data use this index because food and energy prices are relatively volatile, and these users want to focus on what they perceive to be the “core” or “underlying” rate of inflation.”

      This is why perfectly respectable economists, e.g., Krugman, get away with downplaying inflation.

    • Lavern Smith
      June 8, 2016 at 15:13

      Krugman has lobbied for higher rates of inflation for years. He believes it gives us the ability to inflate our way out of debt, foreign and domestic. Basically a way to reduce our social obligations like social security. Inflation is a scam and it is probably being used now to get out from under the 2008 banking crisis.

    • GM
      June 9, 2016 at 23:49

      Krugman is not ‘a perfectly respectable economist’, he is a shill for plutocracy.

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