WaPo’s Meyerson: Politicians Should Simply Refuse Wall Street Campaign Contributions

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October 11, 2011; Source: Washington Post | Washington Post opinion writer Harold Meyerson reports that banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, and their partners and employees generated just over $500 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties in the 2008 election cycle. This sector of Corporate America is unlikely to reduce its campaign financing role, particularly since banks, according to Meyerson, accounted for 41 percent of all corporate profits in the U.S. during the past decade. Given both parties’ dependence on Wall Street for campaign cash, it remains to be seen whether any politicians will be brave enough to buck their financier paymasters and join the growing anti-Wall-Street chorus in support of reforms such as a financial transaction tax or more stringent banking regulation.

Meyerson’s answer to this situation, his “modest proposal,” as he calls it, is this: Politicians should “refuse all campaign contributions from banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, and their partners and employees. From the whole financial sector. Sign a pledge to go off the sauce.”

Acknowledging that politicians view refusing campaign contributions as a “sucker’s game, a form of unilateral disarmament,” Meyerson thinks that groups like MoveOn.org might step up to the plate with new fundraising efforts for candidates who agree to swear off Wall Street money. At the same time, MoveOn is hardly going to be able to replace, dollar-for-dollar, Wall Street’s ability to donate money. To compensate, Meyerson points out that refusing Wall Street funding might swing some movement energy a politician’s way—important, since for now anyway, we still count votes, not dollars, in elections.

There’s no question that Meyerson is looking for a way for politicians such as President Obama and New York Senator Chuck Schumer—both recipients of hefty Wall Street generosity—to safely tell Wall Street to take a hike. But that’s a big political problem for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some politicians may say that they sympathize with the Occupy movement’s critique of the nation’s increasing concentration of wealth and the privileges accorded to Wall Street and the banks, but the leaders of the political parties and the parties themselves are significantly financed by and beholden to their Wall Street campaign donors. Unless politicians start adopting Meyerson’s modest proposal, those statements of understanding and support will ring hollow in the long run.—Rick Cohen