Tim Pawlenty’s triumphant return from pimping for Wall Street

Tim Pawlenty spent years lobbying for the interests of bankers -- and against the interests of non-bankers.

Tim Pawlenty spent years lobbying for the interests of bankers -- and against the interests of non-bankers. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Ignore reports that Tim Pawlenty’s campaign for governor will begin someday soon.

It began last July, when a plaque was installed next to Pawlenty’s official portrait in the State Capitol. The text summarized a governorship marred by tragedy and strife—at least some of it of his own making.

This would not do. Pawlenty complained, and the plaque was rewritten to polish his ego. Gone was the governor who violated the constitution by rewriting the budget to yank $2 billion from schools and social services. In his place stood one who once chaired the esteemed National Governors Association, and who really loved the troops.

In truth, the original text was too kind.

He vetoed transportation funding six months after the 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River. He resisted life-saving stem cell research on “moral” grounds. He held the line on a state minimum wage ($6.15) that ranked among the four stingiest in America. He preserved a ban on extending insurance benefits to domestic partners of gay municipal employees. He sided with banks over protecting homeowners from foreclosure during the mortgage crisis. And that was just 2008.

Pawlenty’s rewrite went beyond his term in office. He also insisted the plaque read that, since 2012, he’s worked as the chief executive officer for “an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.” To learn which one, you’d need to see the original plaque: “The Financial Services Roundtable, a major Wall Street lobbying group.”

Make that the major Wall Street lobbying group. Members include eight of America’s 10 biggest banks, plus Visa, American Express, and MasterCard.

Its institutions represent combined assets north of $10 trillion—comparable to the GDP of China—and they spend mightily to protect it. In the past five years, the Roundtable expensed about $27 million for lobbying. Almost $7 million of that went to Pawlenty, and that’s just through 2015, the last year with tax records available.

That money wasn’t spent fighting on behalf of everyday Minnesotans. When a proposal would’ve forced the six too-big-to-fail banks to keep more cash on hand—lowering the likelihood of another taxpayer bailout—Pawlenty battled to kill it. As Roundtable CEO, he complained it would “make it harder for banks to lend.” What he didn’t mention was that ample savings also threatened stockholder profits and pay for executives, who were reaping huge bonuses over risky investments.

In 2014, a federal consumer protection agency set up an online complaint department, which published customers’ tales of mistreatment. Pawlenty launched an ad campaign calling the complaints “rumors.”

The Roundtable worked to postpone a study (a study!) of how banks were rigging accounts to generate overdraft fees, which cost customers $15 billion in one year alone. Dozens of banks were caught running the scheme, one of the industry’s favorite revenue sources.

Pawlenty even spoke out against regulations that barred financial advisers from misleading clients into investments that generated the most commissions, rather than those in the client’s best interest. Saving consumers from deception “could price professional financial advice beyond the reach of many modest-income families,” he argued with a straight face.

The Roundtable also sued to block customers from taking banks and credit card companies to court, instead of being forced into arbitration, where the companies have a crushing advantage.

In short, Pawlenty’s job was to essentially lobby against any idea that might save people from getting screwed. Upon the election of Donald Trump, the Roundtable pushed its screwing into overdrive.

Last year, the group asked Trump’s treasury department to alleviate some “burdensome disclosures” firms are forced to make, which might result in “information overload” to the investor.

Problem solved: Under new recommendations, firms would no longer have to produce “non-material” information. Like how much more a CEO makes than the average worker. Or whether a company has a bad mining safety record. Or if it’s profiting from minerals a little slave boy retrieved at gunpoint.

When the feds considered new requirements to guard against data breaches, the Roundtable urged intense investigations and strict enforcement... for everyone but banks and insurance companies. Pawlenty & Co. preferred to remain covered by a toothless existing law, which says if a breach of customer data is “reasonably possible,” the company “should notify the affected consumer as soon as possible.” The only thing missing is a “please.”

The Roundtable has also tried to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has fined banks hundreds of millions of dollars for schemes inflicted upon their customers, like Wells Fargo’s massive creation of bogus accounts. After CFPB director Richard Cordray resigned, Pawlenty called for a “bipartisan board” to run the agency, which Trump is eager to suffocate.

Imagine an even split of Democrats and Republicans bickering over whether to investigate their biggest donors. They’d never get anything done. It’d be perfect.

The overdraft study was called off, and Trump’s labor department has delayed the rule barring investment advisers from deceiving their clients. Meanwhile, the GOP tax cut championed by the Roundtable will save banks hundreds of billions of dollars. When he steps down next month, Pawlenty will return to Minnesota professionally triumphant and personally enriched by what’s known as crony capitalism. At least that’s what they call it in the party that’s begging to have him back.

In 2011, when he briefly ran for president, Pawlenty positioned himself as an outsider from both D.C. and Wall Street, which needed to “get its nose out of the trough.” Before he announces his run for governor, the least he could do is wipe off his face.

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