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Ann Wagner (Missouri)

Ann Wagner (Missouri)

Ann Wagner (MO-02) could write a handbook for members of Congress seeking to raise heaps of Wall Street money. Since her first campaign for the House in 2012, Wagner has collected nearly $3 million[1] in donations from banks, securities firms, insurers, real estate companies, and other financial interests. Few elected officials have ever raked in so much so quickly.

And few have been so dedicated to advancing Wall Street’s political agenda. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Wagner has demonstrated a readiness to support just about any proposal to help banks, financial companies, and their executives enrich themselves at the public’s expense. Wall Street also appreciates Wagner for her no-holds-barred attacks on financial regulators and regulations, and in particular for her efforts to undermine the rules that aim to prevent stock scammers and fee-gouging fund managers and brokers from taking unfair advantage of investors and retirement savers.

Rep. Wagner has been especially aggressive in her opposition to a rule calling on retirement investment “advisers” to actually give honest advice – the kind that puts their clients’ financial interests ahead of their own. In each of the past two congresses, Wagner has introduced legislation to stall or kill this Department of Labor requirement (HR 3857), clearing the way for a watered-down, industry-backed “best-interest” standard that would likely allow many brokers and insurance company salespeople to continue to conceal kickbacks and conflicts of interest while steering clients into high-fee or high-risk products that benefit the seller at the investor’s expense. In the past, these pervasive practices have cost American workers and retirees an estimated $17 billion a year.

As further proof of her commitment to the cause of financial deregulation, Wagner has stacked congressional hearings with Wall Street-friendly witnesses and helped organize junkets, such as a “Spa Weekend Trip” in Las Vegas in 2014, where corporate lobbyists could get up close and personal with legislators. When her retirement investment bill failed to advance in the last Congress, Wagner vowed to go to “war with the Department of Labor” over the issue. “If push comes to shove… by god, we’ll just defund them,” she promised in a March 2015 speech, drawing “cheers from a crowd of 800 insurance brokers and executives,” according to an account in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Through these and other services, Wagner has made herself a magnet for campaign contributions from big money managers, brokerage houses, insurance companies, and their lobbying associations. The Financial Services Institute, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the Investment Company Institute, and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors have each contributed $10,000 to Wagner’s current reelection campaign, the maximum allowed by law.

While Wagner has aimed much of her anti-regulatory furor at the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission, she has also been a relentless critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency that during its first five years delivered nearly $12 billion in relief to more than 29 million Americans cheated by banks and other financial companies.

Campaign contributions

Financial companies and their executives have been huge funders of Rep. Wagner’s political career. Since 2011, she has taken almost $3 million[2] in contributions from individuals and PACs associated with banks, payday lenders, and other financial and real estate interests – more than from any other sector of the economy.

Wagner’s top corporate benefactors since 2011 include Edward Jones ($179,200), Northwestern Mutual ($161,650), Wells Fargo ($56,550), Rock Holdings (Quicken Loans) ($46,300), and Bodley Group ($42,000). During the current election cycle, she has collected contributions from Jones Financial Companies ($39,200), Northwestern Mutual ($35,150), Rock Holdings ($27,550), PricewaterhouseCoopers ($20,000), the Investment Company Institute ($19,000), GJ Grewe Inc. ($16,200), Bartlett & Co. ($16,200), Bodley Group ($15,800), Dimensional Fund Advisors ($15,400), Credit Suisse Group ($15,000), Deloitte ($15,000), Ernst & Young ($15,000), KPMG ($15,000), MetLife ($15,000), USAA ($15,000), the American Institute of CPAs ($15,000), Bank of America ($13,500), Berkshire Hathaway ($12,700), US Bancorp ($12,500), LPL Investment Holdings ($11,000), Scottrade ($10,800), Advisory Research ($10,800), Harbour Group ($10,800), DFC Group ($10,800), Holekamp Capital ($10,800), the Mortgage Bankers Association ($10,000), the American Bankers Association ($10,000), State Farm Insurance ($10,000), Citigroup ($10,000), the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors ($10,000), Capital Group Companies ($10,000), Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance ($10,000), the Securities Industry and Financial Marketing Association ($10,000), Prudential Financial ($10,000), the American Council of Life Insurers ($10,000), the American Land Title Association ($10,000),  UBS ($10,000), New York Life Insurance ($10,000), the Financial Services Institute ($10,000), Morgan Stanley ($9,500), Zurich Financial Services ($9,500), JPMorgan Chase & Co ($9,500), PNC Financial Services ($8,500), the American Financial Services Association ($8,000), and many others.

Bills Introduced and Cosponsored

Ann Wagner has introduced or cosponsored a series of bills designed to make it easier for banks, securities, firm, insurers, real estate companies, and other financial entities to take unfair advantage of customers, investors, workers, and taxpayers, or to threaten the safety and stability of the financial system as a whole. These include proposals to:

●  Impose crippling administrative and analytical burdens on the Securities and Exchange Commission and its regulatory process; the SEC’s failure to assess every imaginable alternative would be grounds enough for a company to have a rule overturned in court. (HR 78, introduced)

●  Weaken oversight of the Big 3 credit ratings agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poors, and Fitch, which made huge sums of money by slapping triple-A ratings on toxic mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis (HR 3911, introduced)

●  Make it easier for unproven “micro-cap” companies to issue shares without SEC review of their offering documents, an invitation to accounting fraud, market manipulation, and insider trading, all of which have been found to be more common among micro-cap companies and particularly among non-exchange-listed companies. (HR 2201, introduced).

Voting record

In 2017 and 2018, Americans for Financial Reform (a coalition of more than 200 consumer and other public-interest groups) tracked 38 House floor votes and 36 Financial Services Committee votes – 74 votes altogether – on measures benefiting Wall Street banks and other financial companies at the expense of the country as a whole. Rep. Ann Wagner voted for all 74, including proposals to:

●  Sharply reduce the funding, powers, and political independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, making it easier for mortgage lenders, payday lenders, and credit card companies, etc. to stick customers with hidden fees and unexpected charges (HR 10, voted for);

●  Repeal the “Volcker Rule,” which bars the big Wall Street banks from playing reckless games with insured deposits and other taxpayer-subsidized funds (HR 10, voted for);

●  Roll back consumer credit safeguards for mobile (or manufactured) homes, making it easier to steer borrowers into high-cost loans with excessive fees and interest – in an industry that has long been rife with such abuses (HR 1699, voted for);

●  Weaken oversight of the Big 3 credit ratings agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poors, and Fitch, which made huge sums of money by slapping triple-A ratings on toxic mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis (HR 3911, voted for);

●  Give Wall Street banks and other large financial companies a new way to undo rules they dislike, by requiring the explicit approval of both houses of Congress before any major regulation takes effect (HR 26voted for); and

●  Strip consumers of the right to band together and take banks and other financial companies to court over systematic wrongdoing, leaving people with no recourse except to submit an individual complaint to a corporate-friendly private arbitration firm. This is a system that effectively operates as a corporate Get out of Jail Free Card, since the damage to any one victim of financial industry fraud and trickery is rarely large enough to justify the cost of legal action, and arbitration proceedings are usually kept under wraps. (HJ Resolution 111, voted for)

●  Repeal a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau auto-lending directive against practices that result in borrowers of color being charged higher rates and fees—a systematic problem in this industry. (Joint Resolution 57, voted for).

Ann Wagner also voted for the Republican tax-cut plan (HR 1), from which big banks and financial companies – and their executives – stand to gain hundreds of billions of dollars, with the scandal-ridden Wells Fargo poised to be the leading corporate beneficiary.

In May 2018, Wagner was a proud supporter of the biggest rollback of banking regulations since the financial crisis, appearing with President Trump at a White House signing ceremony. Backers of this legislation (S 2155) described it as an effort to provide regulatory relief for small “community banks”; but that’s a well-honed Wall Street marketing pitch for bills whose chief beneficiaries, as a rule, are much larger and less sympathetic institutions. In fact, the core provision of S 2155 freed a group of 25 banks with $50-$250 billion in assets from the heightened oversight put in place after the 2008-09 financial crisis. Far from protecting community banks, S 2155 will spur increased bank consolidation by letting a $50 billion institution grow up to five times bigger without attracting any extra regulatory scrutiny – a point acknowledged by industry insiders as soon as the bill passed. Its other unadvertised features included a significant weakening of safeguards against predatory or racially discriminatory lending, especially in rural areas of the country. Senator Elizabeth Warren dubbed it The “Bank Lobbyist Act.”

All these votes occurred during the 115th Congress, which has done next to nothing about the serious problems facing ordinary Americans (health care, housing, etc.). If you’re wondering how the same elected body could somehow manage to act on item after item from Wall Street’s legislative wish list, the answer lies with Ann Wagner and others who have built their congressional lives around the pursuit of campaign donations from big banks, securities firms, payday lenders, and other giant financial companies.

When it comes to the issues that Wall Street banks and other financial firms care about, Wagner has ignored not only the interests but the will of the people she is sworn to represent. Ten years after the financial crisis, the great majority of voters – across lines of geography and political party – voice their support for existing regulations and say they would like to see the rules governing Wall Street and the financial world made tougher. Yet in all the actions described here, Rep. Wagner has not once taken a stand for stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders, and other financial entities.

[1] On 9/17/18, showed Rep. Wagner with a total of $2,960,299 in FIRE sector contributions, based on data reported to the Federal Elections Commission and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Like other dollar amounts cited here, this number can be updated by clicking the link to CRP’s website.

[2] On 9/17/18, showed Rep. Wagner with a total of $2,960,299  in FIRE sector contributions, based on data reported to the Federal Elections Commission and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Like other dollar amounts cited here, this number can be updated by clicking the link to CRP’s website.

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