The American Bankers Association regards him as a key member of “the pro-banking bench in Congress.” His entire political career has been fueled by Wall Street money – the millions he made as an investment banker, and the more than $2 million funneled into his campaigns by the likes of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America.
Poliquin (Maine’s 2nd CD) tapped his own fortune to finance his first race for Congress in 2010, as well as his failed runs for Governor and Senator before that. Now he relies on others to bear the expense of keeping him in office. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Poliquin has raised heaps of money from Wall Street and financial interests. In return, he has backed a stream of measures designed to help banks and other big financial companies take reckless bets and enrich themselves at the expense of consumers, investors, workers, and the stability and safety of the overall financial system and economy.
Poliquin is one of a small group of lawmakers deemed worthy of special support by the American Bankers Association (ABA) this year. The association recently announced that it will be running TV ads for his reelection as part of “our commitment to expanding the banking industry’s political engagement” and building a “pro-banking bench in Congress.”
Bank executives and lobbyists value Poliquin not just for his unusually dependable voting record, but for his intense criticism of financial regulators and regulations – the “mountains and mountains” of rules that, as he warned former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, are “starting to smother our financial services industry.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been widely faulted for not doing enough to protect ordinary investors and the integrity of the financial markets against self-serving corporate executives and stock promoters. But Poliquin has a very different take on the matter: at a House hearing with the SEC’s director of enforcement, he complained about the SEC’s “pattern of overreach,” adding that “It would be terrific if you would think about people’s reputation, their firm’s reputation and the confidence that people need to invest.”
Poliquin has taken large sums of money not just from Wall Street banks and securities companies but from payday, car-title and installment lenders, including Ace Cash Express, Lending Tree, Advance America, Cash America, and the Online Lenders Association. Payday lenders appreciate him for, among other things, his February 2018 votein favor of a bill (HR 3299) that would let them get around state usury laws, using “rent-a-bank” schemes to charge triple-digit interest even in Maine, despite its interest-rate cap of 30 percent on consumer loans of less than $2,000.
Like the banks and payday lenders who have funded his career, Poliquin has reserved some of his harshest attacks for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This is the agency created after the 2008-09 financial crisis to bring basic rules of fair play to the world of credit cards, checking accounts, mortgages, and payday, car-title, and student loans. In its first five years of operations, the Consumer Bureau delivered nearly $12 billion in relief to more than 29 million Americans cheated by banks and other financial bad actors.
Poliquin has repeatedly voted to undermine the bureau’s authority and independence by eliminating its funding through the Federal Reserve, making the agency depend on annual congressional appropriations, and replacing its director with a bipartisan commission – a well-known recipe for timid regulation at best and partisan gridlock at worst. When former CFPB Director Richard Cordray testified before the Financial Services committee, Poliquin expressed no interest in the bureau’s efforts to safeguard consumers or bring financial wrongdoers to justice. Instead, he repeatedly berated and interrupted Cordray in an attempt to make a scandal out of the use of private cell phones for official business – something that CFPB staffers did on infrequent occasions, Cordray testified, such as when the batteries in their official phones had gone dead.
Financial and real estate companies – the so-called FIRE sector of the economy – have been Poliquin’s single biggest source of campaign cash, donating a reported $2,112,029 since 2010.¹ That includes $903,755 in the current election cycle – almost 30% of his total support of $3,042,489.
Poliquin’s top contributors in 2017-18 include Citigroup ($15,400), UBS ($12,000), the Mortgage Bankers Association ($11,000), the Investment Company Institute ($10,000), Goldman Sachs ($10,000), Bank of America ($10,000), Capital One ($10,000), the American Bankers Association ($8,000), Morgan Stanley ($8,500), Discover ($7,700), Bank of NY Mellon $7,500), the American Financial Services Association ($7,500), and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($9,500).
It would be hard to find a member of Congress more dedicated to Wall Street’s policy agenda. 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 to make it easier for Wall Street banks and other financial companies to take reckless bets or enrich themselves at the expense of the society as a whole. Bruce Poliquin voted for all 74, including proposals to:
- 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 riddled with such abuses (HR 1699, voted for);
- Let big banks boost profits by reducing the capital reserves they have to set aside as a safeguard against losses (HR 4296, 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);
- End the Federal Reserve’s discretionary authority to perform annual stress tests on private equity firms, hedge funds, giant insurance companies, and multi-trillion dollar asset managers such as Blackrock and Fidelity, even though nonbanks like Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG were at the epicenter of the last global financial collapse (H.R. 4566, 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 26, voted for)
- Strip consumers of the right to band together and take banks and other financial companies to court over systematic wrongdoing, leaving them 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 arbitration firms are typically chosen by (and dependent on future business from) the company being complained against, and the damage suffered by any one victim is rarely large enough to justify the cost of legal action. (HJ Resolution 111, voted for).
Poliquin also voted for the Republican tax-cut plan, 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. And in May 2018, his support helped win passage of S. 2155, the biggest rollback of banking regulations since the financial crisis. Backers of this legislation (S 2155) described it as an effort to provide regulatory relief for small “community banks” – 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. The “Bank Lobbyist Act,” Senator Elizabeth Warren dubbed it.
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 Bruce Poliquin – and with the too many others like him who have built their congressional lives around the pursuit of campaign donations from big banks, securities firms, payday lenders and other giant financial companies.
Again and again, Rep. Poliquin has been ready to ignore not only the interests but the will of the people he 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, Poliquin has not once called for stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders, and other financial entities.
¹ This was the reported total as of 8/21/18, according to Federal Elections Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Like other dollar figures cited here, this number can be updated by clicking the link to CRP’s website.