Since his election to Congress in 2010, Randy Hultgren (Illinois 14th CD) has been a dependable champion of Wall Street’s political agenda. Big banks and predatory lenders know they can count on him to parrot their arguments against regulation and energetically back their assaults on the Dodd-Frank reforms and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
As a freshman congressman, Hultgren was the lead sponsor of a big-bank giveaway bill (HR 992) that turned out to have been written almost word for word by a lobbyist for Citigroup. Hultgren had collected $136,500 in campaign contributions from securities and investment companies – more than from any other industry, Forbes magazine pointed out.
On multiple occasions, Rep. Hultgren has cosponsored or voted for measures to curb the power, funding, and political independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency that was beginning to bring basic rules of fair play to the banking and lending markets and delivering nearly $12 billion in relief to more than 29 million Americans cheated by banks and other financial companies.
Financial and real estate companies – the so-called FIRE sector of the economy – have been Hultgren’s single biggest source of campaign cash, spending more than $2.1 million to place him in Congress and keep him there. That includes over $650,000 in reported contributions during the current election cycle – nearly half his total haul.
His top donors in 2017-18 include the Options Clearing Corporation ($12,000), XR Trading ($10,800), the American Land Title Association ($10,000), the Investment Company Institute ($10,000), the American Bankers Association ($10,000), Capital One ($10,000), JPMorgan Chase ($8,000), Bank of America ($7,500), Citigroup ($7,000), the Mortgage Bankers Association ($7,000), the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association ($7,000), Visa ($6,500), Goldman Sachs ($5,000), and Morgan Stanley ($5,000).
Bills Introduced and Supported
In 2013, Hultgren introduced a bill (HR 992) to repeal the “swaps pushout rule,” which barred banks from using insured deposits and other taxpayer subsidies and guarantees to bet on risky financial derivatives. That kind of gambling had helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis and the massive taxpayer bailouts that followed. Deregulating the derivatives market was a tough sell amid continued revelations from the London Whale scandal, in which a single JPMorgan Chase derivatives trader lost upwards of $6 billion of the bank’s money. Lawmakers may also have been reluctant to support Hultgren’s bill after the New York Times showed that more than 70 of its 85 lines of text had been lifted straight out of a draft written by a Citigroup lobbyist. Nevertheless, Wall Street got its way when Republicans snuck the measure into a “must pass” omnibus spending bill the following year.
Hultgren has co-sponsored measures that would significantly weaken oversight of some of the country’s biggest banks (HR 3312, co-sponsored); help Wall Street brokers dodge conflict-of-interest rules for analyst reports (HR 1675, sponsored); block action by the Consumer Bureau to stop auto lenders and dealers from discriminating against African-American and Latino car buyers (HJ Res. 132, co-sponsored); and strip consumers of the right to join forces and take financial companies to court over systematic fraud (HJ Res 111, co-sponsored).
In House floor votes last year, he supported proposals to:
- Let big banks boost profits by reducing the capital reserves they have to set aside as a safeguard against losses (HR 4296, voted for);
- Slash the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s funding and powers (HR 10, voted for);
- Roll back consumer 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); and
- Weaken oversight of the Big 3 credit ratings agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poors, and Fitch, which had 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).
He also supported the Republican tax-cut bill from which big banks and financial companies – and their top executives – stand to gain hundreds of billions of dollars, with the scandal-ridden Wells Fargo poised to be the leading corporate beneficiary.
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 that would 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. Randy Hultgren voted for 73 of those 74 measures.
In May 2018, Hultgren voted for 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. The core provision of S 2155 freed a group of 25 banks with assets in the $50-$250 billion range from the heightened oversight regime established after the 2008-09 financial crisis. Far from protecting community banks, it 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 to address the serious problems facing ordinary Americans. If you’re wondering how this same body of officials could somehow manage to act on item after item from Wall Street’s legislative wish list, Randy Hultgren is one big answer – Hultgren and 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, Randy Hultgren has been ready to ignore not only the interests but the will of the people he is sworn to represent. Eight years after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, the great majority of voters—across lines of geography, demography, and political party—voice support for the reforms already enacted, and say they want the rules governing banks and lending companies to be made tougher than they are. Yet in all the political actions described here, Rep. Hultgren has not once called for stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders, and other Wall Street entities.