One of the wealthiest members of Congress, MacArthur made a fortune as an executive of the American International Group (AIG), the insurance giant that helped bring on the financial and economic meltdown of 2008-09 by morphing into a hedge fund and building a global house of cards out of fraudulent credit default swaps linked to toxic mortgages.
MacArthur (New Jersey’s 3rd CD) ran an AIG unit known as York Services, which specialized in minimizing corporate payouts after disasters. As a major AIG shareholder, he was also in a position to reap huge profits from the run-up of the company’s stock while it engaged in accounting fraud and the other crimes that ultimately led to a $182 billion federal bailout and a $1.64 billion legal settlement with federal and state regulators.
In 2014, MacArthur spent $5 million of his own money to get elected to Congress. Two years later, he won a seat on the Financial Services Committee, joining a bloc of Republicans who have helped that committee earn a reputation for bringing in heaps of Wall Street campaign money while churning out bills designed to hamstring regulators, help banks enrich themselves at the public’s expense, and make it easier for mortgage lenders, payday lenders, and credit card companies to stick people with hidden fees and unexpected charges.
Over his two terms in Congress, MacArthur has received a reported $1,048,044 from financial and real estate interests. His top contributors in 2017-18 include the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers ($15,000), New York Life Insurance ($14,500), UBS ($10,500), Goldman Sachs ($10,000), the Investment Company Institute ($7,500), Bank of America ($7,000), the Mortgage Bankers Association ($7,000), PNC ($6,000), and the Online Lenders Alliance ($5,500). Collectively, individuals and PACs associated with finance and real estate companies account for $704,753 of MacArthur’s campaign contributions so far in the current election cycle, more than 30% of his $2.3 million total.
Bills Introduced and Cosponsored
While MacArthur rarely mentions Wall Street issues in his public statements, it would be hard to find a member of Congress who has more consistently supported proposals to roll back post-crisis reforms and weaken the agencies responsible for enforcing them. He has been especially zealous in his efforts to undermine securities laws and the ability of regulators and prosecutors to bring cases like the one that ensnared his former AIG boss, Maurice Greenberg, forcing him to step down and pay $9.9 million in penalties.
MacArthur has scrubbed all mention of AIG and Greenberg from his official biography. Nevertheless, a PAC created by Greenberg has been a top contributor to MacArthur’s past two campaigns, and MacArthur has used his office to carry out Greenberg’s personal crusade against the New York State law he was charged with violating and the state regulators who helped bring him to justice.
In February 2018, MacArthur introduced HR 5037, the deceptively titled Securities Fraud Act of 2018, which would not only eviscerate that New York law but curb the power of state securities regulators generally. State regulators condemned his bill as “misguided and dangerous” and “an attempt to tie the hands of the regulators who are the ‘cops on the beat’ and the closest to Main Street investors in favor of large companies engaged in or suspected of securities fraud.”
In the 115th Congress, MacArthur has also introduced a second major securities deregulation bill, HR 4263, the “Regulation A+ Improvement Act.” It would let companies sell up to $75 million a year’s worth of securities without having to follow the registration and disclosure rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The effect would be to undermine public securities markets and encourage scams and fraud.
MacArthur has also been a cosponsor of numerous other bills that line up with Wall Street’s deregulatory agenda, including measures to:
- 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);
- Make it immensely more difficult for federal regulators to designate large nonbank entities (such as AIG) for increased scrutiny, by adding a new set of procedural hurdles to a process that already includes ten distinct major steps and numerous opportunities for appeal and typically takes some two years to complete. (HR 4061, co-sponsored);
- Exempt so-called “micro-cap offerings” (valued at $500,000 a year or less) from the basic investor safeguards of the 1933 Securities Act. (HR 2201, co-sponsored);
- Impede the ability of banking regulators to alert banks to warning signs that their customers are engaging in fraud or other illegal activity, putting consumers and financial institutions at risk of serious financial loss. (HR 2706, co-sponsored); and
- Paralyze the process of issuing regulations with an obstacle course of new review procedures including cost-benefit analysis requirementsinherently biased in favor of regulated companies. (HR 1116, co-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 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. Tom MacArthur voted for 73 of those 74 measures.
He was also the only member of New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation to vote for the Republican tax-cut bill, from which big banks and private equity firms – 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 October 2017, MacArthur voted in lockstep with his party to strip consumers of the right to band together and take banks and other financial companies to court over systematic wrongdoing. The passage of this measure (HJ Resolution 111, which he co-sponsored) left consumers with no recourse other than submitting 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 damages to any one defrauded bank customer are rarely large enough to justify the cost of legal action, and arbitration proceedings are usually kept under wraps.
In May 2018, MacArthur’s vote helped enact 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, this measure 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 legislation 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 lawmakers like Tom MacArthur, 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, Tom MacArthur 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—express support for current Wall Street regulation and say they would like to see the rules made tougher than they are. Yet in all the actions described here, Rep. MacArthur has not once called for stronger rather than weaker regulation of banks, lenders and other Wall Street entities.