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Obama's Money Cartel

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Source: CounterPunch

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Wall Street, known variously as a barren wasteland for diver­sity or the last plantation in America, has defied courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for decades in its failure to hire blacks as stockbrokers. Now it’s marshal­ling its money machine to elect a black man to the highest office in the land. Why isn’t the press curious about this?

Walk into any of the largest Wall Street brokerage firms today and you’ll see a self-portrait of upper management rac­ism and sexism: women sitting at secre­tarial desks outside fancy offices occupied by predominantly white males. According to the EEOC as well as the recent racial discrimination class actions filed against UBS and Merrill Lynch, blacks make up between 1 per cent to 3.5 per cent of stockbrokers - and this after 30 years of litigation, settlements and empty prom­ises to do better by the largest Wall Street firms.

The first clue to an entrenched white male bastion seeking a black male occupant in the oval office (having placed only five blacks in the U.S. Senate in the last two centuries) appeared this month on a chart at the Center for Responsive Politics website. It was a list of the 20 top con­tributors to the Barack Obama campaign, and it looked like one of those compre­hension tests where you match up things that go together and eliminate those that don’t. Of the 20 top contributors, I elimi­nated six that didn’t compute. I was now looking at a sight only slightly less fright­ening to democracy than a Diebold vot­ing machine. It was a Wall Street cartel of financial firms, their registered lobbyists, and go-to lawfirms that have a death grip on our federal government.

Why is the “yes, we can” candidate in bed with this cartel? How can we, the people, make change if Obama’s money backers block our ability to be heard?

Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors consist of officers and em­ployees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originat­ing and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages. These latest frauds have left thousands of children in some of our largest minority communities coming home from school to see eviction notices and foreclosure signs nailed to their front doors. Those scars will last a lifetime.

These seven Wall Street firms are (in order of money given): Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse. There is also a large hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group, which is a major source of fee income to Wall Street. There are five large corporate law firms that are also registered lobbyists; and one is a corporate law firm that is no longer a registered lobbyist but does legal work for Wall Street. The cumula­tive total of these 14 contributors through February 1, 2008, was $2,872,128, and we’re still in the primary season.

But hasn’t Senator Obama repeatedly told us in ads and speeches and debates that he wasn’t taking money from reg­istered lobbyists? Hasn’t the press given him a free pass on this statement?Barack Obama, speaking in Greenville, South Carolina, on January 22, 2008: “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign, they won’t run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president”.Barack Obama, in an email to support­ers on June 25, 2007, as reported by the Boston Globe:

“Candidates typically spend a week like this – right before the critical June 30th financial reporting deadline – on the phone, day and night, begging Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs to write huge checks. Not me. Our campaign has rejected the money-for-in­fluence game and refused to accept funds from registered federal lobbyists and po­litical action committees”.

The Center for Responsive Politics’ website allows one to pull up the filings made by lobbyists registering under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 with the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and secretary of the U.S. Senate. These top five contributors to the Obama campaign have filed as registered lobbyists: Sidley Austin LLP; Skadden, Arps, et al; Jenner & Block; Kirkland & Ellis; Wilmerhale, aka Wilmer Cutler Pickering.

Is it possible that Senator Obama does not know that corporate law firms are also frequently registered lobbyists? Or is he making a distinction that because these funds are coming from the employ­ees of these firms, he’s not really taking money directly from registered lobby­ists? That thesis seems disingenuous when many of these individual donors own these law firms as equity partners or shareholders and share in the profits gen­erated from lobbying.

Far from keeping his distance from lobbyists, Senator Obama and his cam­paign seems to be brainstorming with them.

The political publication, The Hill, re­ported on December 20, 2007, that three salaried aides on the Obama campaign were registered lobbyists for dozens of corporations. (The Obama campaign said they had stopped lobbying since joining the campaign.) Bob Bauer, counsel to the Obama campaign, is an attorney with Perkins Coie. That law firm is also a reg­istered lobbyist.

What might account for this persistent (but non-reality based) theme of distanc­ing the Obama campaign from lobbyists? Odds are it traces back to one of the largest corporate lobbyist spending sprees in the history of Washington whose details would cast an unwholesome pall on the Obama campaign, unless our cognitive abilities are regularly bombarded with abstract vacuities of hope and change and sentimental homages to Dr. King and President Kennedy.

On February 10, 2005, Senator Obama voted in favor of the passage of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. Senators Biden, Boxer, Byrd, Clinton, Corzine, Durbin, Feingold, Kerry, Leahy, Reid and 16 other Democrats voted against it. It passed the Senate 72-26 and was signed into law on February 18, 2005.

Here is an excerpt of remarks Senator Obama made on the Senate floor on February 14, 2005, concerning the pas­sage of this legislation:

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