Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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Chamber Targeting Next Finance Battle

| Mon Jun. 21, 2010 9:20 AM EDT

As early as this week, top members of the House and Senate will hash out a final agreement on merging the two chambers' financial reform bills. Led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), this "conference" process will soon produce a compromise—and, potentially, compromised—bill that seeks to prevent the kinds of abuses that brought the economy to it knees by rejiggering how Wall Street does business. But even before a conference compromise has been reached and a final bill sent to President Obama, lobbying powerhouses like the Chamber of Commerce are already plotting their attacks on the next phase of financial reform—making 1,600 pages of arcane law a reality.

Bloomberg reports that according to a Chamber analysis, the bill could require as many as 399 new rulemakings and 47 new studies, on everything from consumer protection to eliminating debit card "swipe" fees to making big banks cut off their riskiest investment outfits. Which is to say, once the bill passes, there's going to be a whole lot of jostling and lobbying and pressure on regulators, the ones implementing the bill, to weaken new reforms and spare banks the toughest changes. Even the subtlest of regulatory tweaks could mean billions of dollars kept or lost by the country's biggest banks. Here's Bloomberg:

The direction from Congress in the legislation is broad: The consumer agency is to police “covered persons,” or any person offering or providing a consumer financial product or service. Some of the “covered persons” are defined in the bill, while others aren’t.

For example, the agency would regulate mortgage brokers and anyone who is a “larger participant of a market for other consumer financial products or services.” In the rule-writing, the agency would have to determine exactly what a “larger participant” is.

"It’s all on-the-blackboard stuff until you get to the regs," said Wayne Abernathy, a former Treasury official who is now an executive vice president at the American Bankers Association. "That's when it becomes real life."

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For Sale: Florida Gov, Senate Seats

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 11:51 AM EDT

Weeks ago, political aspirants Rick Scott and Jeff Greene were long shots, outsiders, no-names. Scott is a Florida Republican running for governor, Greene a Florida Democrat running for US Senate. But Scott and Greene have something in common, a shared trait that's propelling both men toward success in the Sunshine State: They're stinking rich, and spending freely to boost their candidacies.

Their strategy looks to be working. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows both Scott and Greene leapfrogging their opponents in public support. After entering the race two months ago with meager public support and little name recognition, Scott now boasts 44 percent of support among Republican voters. That's a 13-point lead over his challenger, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. (24 percent of Republican voters are undecided, the poll shows.) McCollum has the backing of the GOP establishment, and was considered the frontrunner until today's poll. How, you ask, has the underdog surged so fast? So far, Scott, a former hospital CEO, has spent more than $12.5 million on his campaign, including a wave of ads plugging his support for an Arizona-like immigration law in Florida. McCollum has spent just $805,000.

White Newborns Soon the Minority

| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 10:08 AM EDT

The day when the majority of newborns in the US are nonwhite minorities is almost here. The Wall Street Journal reports today that, between July 2008 and July 2009, the percentage of minority newborns in this country jumped from 46.8 percent to 48.6 percent. That likely means the point at which minority newborns are 50 percent or more of all US-born kids is almost here, if it hasn't occurred already.

It's also a reminder of the major demographic shift in this country, in which all whites cease to be the majority, replaced instead by a "majority minority." Here's the Journal on this:

"The question is just when," said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. He guesses the milestone will be crossed in the next few years, and could happen as early as 2011...

A number of forces are pushing the US toward a "majority minority" future. The median age of the white population is older than that of nonwhites, and thus a larger share of minority women are in prime child-bearing years. In addition, white women are having fewer children than nonwhites, while the growth in mixed marriages has led to more multiracial births.

Right now, minorities in toto comprise around 35 percent of the US population, up from 30 percent in 2000, according to Census data, which means the white majority will remain for a few decades more. (In 2008, the Census predicted a nationwide majority-minority by 2050.) Already, though, four states—Hawaii, Texas, California, and New Mexico—have majority-minority populations. This, of course, is the context for the nation's increasingly fraught immigration debate, with states like Arizona pitted against the Obama administration and more left-leaning immigration reformers. The battle will only grow more feverish, as other states like Michigan try to pass Arizona-like immigration bills of their own.

For future political candidates, this demographic shift is a stark reminder of who they'll need to court if they want to be elected. With that in mind, you've got to wonder if immigration crackdowns like Arizona's law won't soon be a political suicide for the politicians backing them.

GOPers and the Absence of Reason

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 5:09 PM EDT

Today, a slew of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate delivered their opening shots in financial reform's final round. In what's called "conference," members of both parties and both chambers will spend the next two weeks reconciling their two 1,500-plus-page pieces of legislation that would create a new consumer agency, end taxpayer bailouts, cast light on the $600 trillion dollar derivatives markets, and crack down on financial players from Goldman Sachs to car dealers to payday lenders. By some counts, the path to the conference process has taken two years or more. Yet one of the most striking things from today's opening statements is how stale and unoriginal the Republicans' critiques are of the two bills. (In Washington, some call that discipline, I suppose.)

One by one, on the House and Senate sides, from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the banking committee, to the most junior House member, Republicans rehashed the same tired talking points to justify their opposition to financial reform. Chief among those points is the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored housing corporations that are now basically wards of the state. Republicans have a very valid argument when they decry the rising tab needed to bail out Fannie and Freddie, now around $150 billion; and yes, there needs to be legislation to decide the futures of these two wounded companies. But the bills the House and Senate are trying to merge are meant to address the causes of the financial crisis—and, as I've explained before, Fannie and Freddie did not cause the crisis. (For an in-depth explanation, read this.)

Still, Republicans far and wide continue to rail against Fannie and Freddie as playing an huge, integral, AIG-esque role in melting down the US economy in 2008 and 2009. And it's a canard they've been espousing since debate on new financial reforms began last spring.

The other beloved GOP talking point is that both the House and Senate bills will usher in an era of perpetual government bailouts of too-big- or too-interconnected-to-fail banks. This one is straight out of the playbook (pdf) of Frank Luntz, the well-known Republican strategist. As Luntz wrote, "Public outrage about the bailout of banks and Wall Street is a simmering time bomb set to go off on Election Day. Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout." And that's exactly what Republicans have done, time and time again.

Which is too bad. We've seen what a handful of engaged Republicans—like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a lead negotiator on financial reform earlier this year, or Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)—can do if they actually engage with Democrats and offer substantive solutions, instead of slapping a "Bailout Bill" label on the whole thing. But if today's opening remarks are any indication, it's look like we're in for several weeks of bickering and blame-trading that won't make this bill any better.

Wall St. Reform's Final Bout, Revolving Door Edition

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The fate of Congress' massive financial reform overhaul now rests in the hands of a few select lawmakers—top Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate. Starting Thursday, this small group has two weeks or so to merge 3,000 pages of dense, overlapping legislative text into a single bill to deliver to President Obama.

These same lawmakers also happen to be among the most well-connected to Wall Street, big banks, and their lobbyists in Washington—that is, the very industries they're seeking to regulate. A review by Mother Jones of lobbying records shows there are 70 current or former financial lobbyists who've previously worked in the Capitol Hill offices of these lawmakers. The lawmakers participating in the conference process with the most Hill staffers-turned-finance-lobbyists include Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the banking committee chairman; Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), banking committee’s ranking member; and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a longtime ally of Wall Street.

The close ties between the financial reform conferees and finance lobbyists are a stark reminder of how much clout Wall Street has here in Washington, and how ingrained the big banks are in the legislative process. A recent report (pdf) by the Public Accountability Initiative, titled "Big Bank Takeover," put it this way: "The big banks have employed an unrivaled network of in-house lobbying teams, hired guns, industry associations, front groups, and behind-the-scenes influence peddlers with deep connections to Congress and the Obama administration, including the leadership of the House financial services committee, the Senate banking committee, the Treasury Department, and key regulatory agencies."

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