Since he first ran for Congress in 2010, Andy Barr (Kentucky’s 6th CD) has taken more than $3 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street banks, payday lenders, and other financial and real estate interests, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and the American Bankers Association.¹
As a freshman House member in 2013, Barr won a seat on the Financial Services Committee, known to lawmakers as the place to go if your goal is to raise heaps of money from banks and big financial companies – and if you don’t mind paying them back with a stream of legislation that helps them enrich themselves at the expense of consumers, investors, workers, and the stability and safety of the financial system and economy as a whole.
Even by that committee’s standards, Barr has stood out for his unfailing dedication to Wall Street’s agenda. Again and again, he has parroted the arguments of financial industry executives and lobbyists while using the powers of his office to make it easier for such companies to gamble with taxpayer-guaranteed funds or stick people with hidden fees and “gotcha” clauses.
A persistent critic of the banking and lending rules imposed after the 2008-09 financial crisis, Barr has come down especially hard on supposed “overregulation” by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created to bring fairness and transparency to the world of credit cards, checking accounts, mortgages, and payday, car-title, and student loans. During its first five years, this agency delivered nearly $12 billion in financial relief to some 29 million consumers who had been cheated by banks and lenders.
Financial and real estate interests have spent more than $3.1 million in support of Barr’s political career. In the current election cycle alone he has collected over $1 million from such entities. Top donors for 2017-18 include the American Bankers Association ($22,000), Bank of America ($21,400), PricewaterhouseCoopers ($20,000), Capital One ($20,000), Deloitte LLP ($20,000), the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America ($20,000), New York Life Insurance ($19,000), Goldman Sachs ($18,700), GoldenTree Asset Management ($18,500), the American Financial Services Association ($17,500), the Investment Company Institute ($17,500), Blackstone Group ($16,500), Bank of New York Mellon ($15,000), Citigroup ($13,999), JPMorgan Chase ($12,500), the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($12,500), and the Mortgage Bankers Association ($11,500). Individuals and PACs associated with such companies collectively account for more than 70 percent of his total $1.7 million fundraising haul.
The American Financial Services Association (AFSA), which represents credit and debit card companies and assorted consumer lenders, is one of a number of such groups that have given Barr every dollar the law allows. In February 2016, Barr was the keynote speaker at AFSA’s “Installment Lenders Summit,” endorsing the group’s call for a rollback of federal lending rules. AFSA officials have received a “friendly reception from Barr when they’ve testified before his House committee.”
Bills Introduced and Supported
- HR 1699 would roll back consumer credit safeguards for purchasers of mobile homes, allowing retailers to direct customers to affiliated lenders pushing high-cost loans with excessive fees and interest – in an industry that has long been rife with such abuses. Barr’s bill expressly exempts sellers of mobile homes from the requirements of the Truth in Lending Act.
- HR 2226 would invite a resurgence of reckless, deceptive, and discriminatory mortgage lending practices – the kind that ran rampant in the years before the financial crisis of 2008 and helped bring on an economic cataclysm from which tens of millions of American families are still struggling to recover. Barr’s bill would create a dangerously broad exemption from predatory mortgage loan safeguards, helping thousands of lenders get around rules meant to stop them from steering borrowers into excessively costly loans. Many lenders would no longer be required to show that borrowers understand their loans and are in a position to repay them.
Barr has also supported proposals to:
- Strip consumers of the right to band together and take banks and other financial companies to court over systematic wrongdoing, forcing them to rely on secretive, corporate-friendly private arbitration firms. (HJ Resolution 111, co-sponsored);
- Repeal the “Volcker Rule,” which bars the big Wall Street banks from playing reckless games with the benefit of insured deposits and other taxpayer subsidies and guarantees. (HR 10, co-sponsored);
- Boost big-bank profits by reducing the capital reserves they have to set aside as a safeguard against losses. (HR 4296, voted for);
- Undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by eliminating its independent funding and making the agency depend on annual congressional appropriations (HR 1486, sponsored) and by replacing its director with a five-member commission – a well-known recipe for ineffectual regulation. (HR 3519).
He also voted for the Republican tax-cut bill, 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, Barr helped pass the biggest rollback of banking regulations since the financial crisis. The “Bank Lobbyist Act,” as Senator Elizabeth Warren dubbed it, loosened restraints on 25 of the country’s biggest banks (recipients of a combined $50 billion in bailout money during the 2008 financial crisis) and rolled back protections against predatory or racially discriminatory lending, especially in rural areas of the country. Backers of this legislation promoted it as an effort to provide regulatory relief for small “community banks,” but its greatest benefits will go to giant regional bank chains with between $50 and $250 billion in assets, and industry insiders acknowledge that it will lead to increased bank consolidation by letting a $50 billion institution grow up to five times bigger without attracting any extra regulatory scrutiny.
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 proposals 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. Barr voted for all 74 of those measures.
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 could somehow manage to act on item after item from Wall Street’s legislative wish list, Andy Barr is a big part of the answer – Barr and lawmakers like him who have built their congressional lives around the pursuit of campaign cash from big banks, securities firms, payday lenders and other giant financial companies.
On the issues that matter to them, Barr has a long record of ignoring not only the interests but the will of the people he is sworn to represent. The great majority of Americans, across party lines, want to see tougher financial regulation and worry that Wall Street has too much influence over our economy and government. Yet in all the actions described here, Rep. Barr has not once called stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders and other Wall Street entities.