A multimillionaire and former bank CEO, French J. Hill (Arkansas’s 2nd CD) dipped into his own fortune to fund his first campaign for Congress in 2014. Now, he depends on other bankers and financial high flyers to cover most of the cost of keeping him in office. His top 20 corporate backers include Wells Fargo bank, Regions Financial, Bank of America, and the Stephens investment group, which has so far contributed close to a quarter of a million dollars to Rep. Hill’s two congressional campaigns. In all, he has received over $2.2 million in donations from individuals and PACs associated with the financial and real estate industries, more than from any other sector of the economy.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) chose Hill as one of two House members worthy of special support this year: the association recently began airing TV commercials for his reelection as part of its “commitment to expanding the banking industry’s political engagement” and building a “pro-banking bench in Congress.”
Hill sits on the House Financial Services Committee, where he has racked up a record of unfailing support for Wall Street’s political agenda. Again and again, he has used the powers of his office to roll back the regulations enacted in response to the 2008-09 financial crisis and undermine the agencies responsible for enforcing them, making it easier for banks, securities firms, and payday lenders etc. to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
Hill has also endeared himself to these companies and their executives with his relentless criticism of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). That’s the agency created to bring basic standards of fairness and transparency to the financial marketplace after the existing set of bank regulators failed to stem the tide of recklessness, deception and outright fraud leading up to the 2008 crisis. During its first five years, the Consumer Bureau delivered nearly $12 billion in relief to more than 29 million Americans cheated by financial companies large and small.
But Hill has repeatedly voted to undermine the bureau’s authority and independence. He has voted for measures that would, among other things, eliminate its funding through the Federal Reserve, make the agency depend on annual congressional appropriations, and replace its director with a bipartisan commission – an old Washington recipe for weak regulation at best and gridlock at worst. When former CFPB Director Richard Cordray testified before Hill’s committee, Hill showed no interest in the bureau’s efforts to safeguard consumers or bring financial wrongdoers to justice. Instead, he portrayed the bureau as a pointless and “duplicative” agency: over the span of his own two decades in the brokerage and commercial banking businesses, Hill asserted, he had never once seen federal or state regulators “shirk their consumer obligation[s].”
Since 2014, French Hill has received a reported $2,215,649 from financial and real estate interests. His top 20 corporate donors include the Stephens investment group ($243,925), Arvest Bank Group ($39,250), Ernst & Young ($33,900), Simmons First National Bank ($33,875), Wells Fargo ($33,350), Westrock Capital Partners ($32,450), the American Bankers Association ($32,000), Regions Financial ($28,500), Bank of America ($27,650), and Hanna Capital Management $26,000).
In the 2017-18 election cycle, individuals and PACs associated with such companies so far account for $1,034,639 (nearly two-thirds) of his corporate total of $1,619,688. That sum includeslarge donations from the Stephens investment group ($74,200), New York Life Insurance ($20,000), the American Land Title Association ($20,000), Deloitte LLP ($20,000), Westrock Capital Partners ($18,800), the Real Estate Roundtable ($18,500), the Investment Company Institute ($18,000), Simmons First National Corp ($17,300), Regions Financial ($16,750), Ernst & Young ($15,000), Capital Group Companies ($15,000), the Mortgage Bankers Association ($15,000), the Independent Community Bankers of America ($15,000), Rock Holdings (Quicken Loans) ($14,700), the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation ($14,150), Bank of America ($13,200), the Securities Industry and Financial Market Association ($13,000), LPL Investment Holdings ($12,500), PricewaterhouseCoopers ($12,500), the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($12,000), the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America ($12,500), the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($12,000), Citigroup ($12,000), Liberty Mutual ($12,000), Wells Fargo ($10,900), the Carlton Group (international real estate banking firm) (10,800), the American Bankers Association ($10,500), Charles Schwab ($10,500), Capital One ($10,000), UBS ($10,000), Commercial Real Estate Finance Council ($10,000), Bank of New York Mellon ($8,000), Bank of the Ozarks ($7,650), Morgan Stanley ($7,500), Blackrock ($7,500), Ally Financial ($7,500), JPMorgan Chase ($7,500), Goldman Sachs ($7,000), Genworth Financial ($7,000), the American Financial Services Association ($6,500), PNC ($6,000), the Consumer Bankers Association ($6,000), Visa ($6,000), Vanguard ($6,000), the National Association of Realtors ($5,500), Hanna Ventures ($5,400), Hanna Capital Management ($5,400), Capital Funding Group ($5,400), and more.
During the current Congress, Rep. Hill has introduced these two financial deregulation bills (among others):
- HR 3978 would make it easier for mortgage lenders to provide confusing or inaccurate information about title insurance fees – an area of widespread price-gouging over the years (sponsored); and
- HR 910 would allow promoters in the rapidly growing market for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to evade rules meant to guard investors against inaccurate or misleading “research” (sponsored).
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. French Hill voted for all 74 of those measures, including proposals to:
- 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);
- Repeal the “Volcker Rule,” which bars the Wall Street megabanks from playing reckless games with insured deposits and other taxpayer-subsidized funds (HR 10, 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);
- Allow promoters of certain complex and risky mutual funds to take advantage of securities-regulation exemptions designed for conventional businesses (HR 4279, voted for);
- Impede the ability of federal regulators to monitor large nonbank entities by adding a series of new procedural hurdles to a designation process that already includes ten distinct major steps and many opportunities for appeal and typically takes about two years to complete (HR 4061, co-sponsored);
- Make it difficult for federal regulators to subject U.S. banks to safety and soundness standards that go beyond the relatively weak standards set by international bodies (HR 3179, cosponsored)
- Place unprecedented new constraints on the ability of the Federal Reserve to address risks at 26 of the country’s largest banks, ranging from $50 billion to about $500 billion in size, even when regulators conclude that action is needed. (HR 3312, cosponsored);
- Dramatically undermine state protections against payday, car title, and other predatory lending—protections often put in place by the public directly through initiatives. The bill would override the Second Circuit’s Madden v. Midland decision and open the floodgates for a wide range of predatory actors to violate state laws and make loans at 300 percent annual interest or higher, simply by partnering with banks which could transfer loans to them. (HR 3299, 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 Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG were at the epicenter of the last global financial collapse (HR 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, co-sponsored); and
- 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, co-sponsored).
Hill 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, he was a proud supporter of S 2155, the single biggest rollback of banking regulations since the financial crisis. Like the big-bank lobbyists who played a large part in putting this huge bill together, Hill tried to portray it as a modest effort to provide regulatory relief for small “community banks.” 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 financial crisis. Far from protecting community banks, this legislation 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, French Hill is one big answer – Hill and the others like him who have built their congressional careers 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 matter to Wall Street, French Hill has a long record of ignoring 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, Rep. Hill has not once called for stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders, and other financial entities.