Posted 10 years ago on Dec. 8, 2011, 5:50 p.m. EST by looseIyhuman
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The law applies to everyone. Wall Street protesters should be held accountable if they engage in illegal activity - and so should Wall Street banks. There is no excuse for protesters to violate public safety laws - and no excuse for powerful financial institutions to defraud their customers or investors.
Yet for all the talk about accountability, there has been little action when it comes to holding large financial institutions accountable for breaking the law.
Look at the latest foreclosure fraud scandals. For more than a year, one story after another has come to light exposing how some of America's largest financial institutions broke the law. In some cases, their blatantly illegal behavior in the foreclosure process pushed families out of their homes. In some others, families gave up and moved away under the threat of foreclosure.
The revelations about robosigning - in which mortgage servicers falsified legal documents to foreclose on homes faster and more cheaply - were followed by stories about illegal home foreclosures against military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, cases of mistaken-identity foreclosures, cases of foreclosures caused by bad record keeping and on and on.
Credit unions and most small banks followed the law. But the biggest mortgage lenders and servicers swamped the system with bad practices.
As stories of illegal behavior in Massachusetts and across the country tumbled out, Wall Street plotted its strategy. Instead of owning up, huge financial services companies took a different approach: They set new spending records hiring an army of lobbyists to shift attention away from their wrongdoing.
The big banks and their allies followed a now-familiar game plan: Launch an offensive against anyone trying to enforce the law with rigor; work overtime to block serious investigation of illegal activity; and persuade the government to accept a slap-on-the-wrist settlement to absolve their violations of the law.
But there has been some pushback recently. On Nov. 28, a federal judge rejected a government settlement with Citibank over accusations that it misled investors in the run-up to the financial crisis. Why? The judge said there hadn't been enough investigation.
Just last week, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a lawsuit against the five largest mortgage servicers, bringing to a halt here in Massachusetts the stalling tactics that banks have used for more than a year as they dodged responsibility for foreclosure practices.
Does this mean the tide is turning toward real accountability - a full and fair investigation of the biggest financial institutions? A test case now lies before Congress.
New laws were put in place more than a year ago to provide some accountability over Wall Street. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created with the power to help consumers get the clear, useful information they need to make the best decisions on their financial futures. By enforcing some basic rules, the agency can help level the playing field between families and the giant Wall Street banks that sell credit cards, mortgages and other financial products.
But to have its full powers to insist on real accountability, the agency must have a director. And here's where a showdown is coming.
Last summer, President Barack Obama nominated Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, to the post. But Wall Street's friends in Congress seized on a blocking maneuver: Forty-four Republican senators promised to stop any vote on a new director to thwart the new agency.
In other words, those who broke our economic system with crazy, dangerous mortgages aren't subject to full scrutiny because their allies in Congress are blocking Cordray's nomination.
With all the clout that Wall Street and its lobbyists have, real accountability won't be easy. But the first steps are pretty obvious.
First, confirm Cordray, and allow the consumer finance bureau to do its job. Efforts to weaken the agency before it can call a single Wall Street firm to account are shameful.
Second, demand that our state attorneys general and federal enforcement officials do more - not less - to push back against the big banks and their lobbyists and to investigate those whose illegal actions have broken the economy. And when evidence warrants, bring public prosecutions.
Third, stop the late-night budget tricks and other maneuvers designed to weaken agencies that enforce the laws. Put real cops on the financial beat in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, cops with the resources they need to patrol for fraud and sustain tough prosecutions.
It has been more than three years since the greatest financial crisis in three generations. It is past time that we stop talking about accountability and start demanding it from those who broke the system.
Fighting for the middle class means more than talk. It means across-the-board, consistent accountability for anyone who breaks the law - no matter where they work or who their friends are.