A group called Wall Street Flunkies Project has included Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill on its “banker’s dozen” list of the top Wall Street Flunkies for the campaign money they receive from the banking/finance industry and the legislative services they provide in return.
Hill, himself a millionaire former banker, has long depended on the financial sector for campaign cash. Wall Street Flunkies has all the specifics on $2.2 million from those sources in two campaigns for Congress. Stephens Inc. of Little Rock leads the way with about a quarter-million from its employees. The American Banking Association has given Hill special attention.
What’s he done to earn such favor? Sit on the House Financial Services Committee and work to roll back regulations enacted during the financial crisis and to undermine agencies that enforce them. This helps banks, securities firms and payday lenders. Consumers, not so much. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been a particular target of Hill, never mind the billions it has recovered for people cheated by lenders.
* Campaign Contributions
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).
What does the industry get in return? Legislation by Hill is one thing.
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).
His voting record? It’s perfect for bankers: 74 of 74 votes went with the big money on votes tracked on the floor or committee by the Americans for Financial Reform. His votes would:
* 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.”
I’ve asked Hill’s staff if he’d care to respond to the criticism, but they customarily do not answer questions from the Arkansas Times. He has issued many public statements touting this very work, however, albeit with a different spin.
Hill has a strong Democratic opponent this year, by the way. He’s Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.
The leader of the Flunky Project is Jim Lardner, a former communications director for Americans for Financial Reform. Read about that group here. Its financial support has come from the Democratic Alliance, which you can read about here. Dirty liberals all of them. They believe in giving suckers an even break.