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The Wall Street Flunkies Project

The Wall Street Flunkies project got going in August 2018. It was a research and messaging campaign, staffed by a team of five part-time volunteers. Our mission was to call out a group of House incumbents for taking heaps of money from big banks, payday lenders, and private equity firms etc. while using the powers of their office to help those companies – and their executives — enrich themselves at the expense of the society as a whole.

We produced a set of fact-filled profiles (like this one) plus talking points and infographics on 13 “major flunkies” and 19 “minor flunkies.” Using a variety of communications channels (including email blasts, social media posts and phone calls), we sought to bring their behavior to the notice of progressive organizations, local and national media outlets, opposition candidates and voters.

As an election-year effort, our project got off to a late start. Most campaigns had already settled on a core message by the time we began to circulate our data, and some candidates were not receptive to the line of argument we proposed, either because it ran counter to the advice they were getting from on high or, in a few cases, because they had decided to make a moral statement by avoiding anything that smacked of negative campaigning. Just the same, campaign aides and volunteers for more than a dozen challengers put our evidence to good use.

These challengers included Katie Hill in California, Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood in Illinois, Liz Watson in Indiana, Amy McGrath in Kentucky, Jared Golden in Maine, Cort van Ostran in Missouri, Dean Phillips in Minnesota, Anthony Brindisi in New York, Andy Kim in New Jersey, Ben McAdams in Utah, and Lisa Brown in Washington. In four congressional districts, local media outlets ran articles citing Wall Street Flunkies and our evidence.

Of our 13 “major flunkies,” also known as our “bankers’ dozen,” eight wound up losing, and the financial-industry ties of at least three of them – Bruce Poliquin of Maine, Claudia Tenney of New York and Randy Hultgren of Illinois – clearly played a part in their defeats.  Hultgren, for example, had a long and glaring record of service to Wall Street, including (as we had pointed out) his sponsorship of a major financial deregulation bill written by Citigroup, one of his top donors. Lauren Underwood, who beat Hultgren, ran on her public health background and her commitment to the Affordable Care Act and its coverage of preexisting conditions. But Underwood’s victory also reflected the appeal of her campaign slogan, “Unbought and Unbossed,” bolstered by her refusal to accept corporate money and her team’s readiness to talk about Hultgren’s money-grubbing and special-interest favors. “Being able to tie Randy Hultgren’s bank [money] to specific votes and language was very helpful,” an Underwood campaigner reported after the election.

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