We don’t hear so much about the Tea Party these days, but it’s had a good run in Missouri, dominating the political narrative for a few years and managing to elect a slew of John Birch Society retreads who have joined forces with the rest of the GOP to work their backwards magic in Jefferson City. Although I would argue that many if not most of the Tea Party adherents were a bit confused about just what they stood for apart from the resentment occasioned by the first black president, some did talk the talk when it came to big banks and big money corruption in government. As recently as the last election, Virginia’s Tea Partying David Brat was able to defeat incipient GOP congressional star Eric Cantor in part by harping on big banks and the bailout.
Missouri’s Tea Party also vented about banks and bailouts. Nevertheless, when it came to selecting their representatives, Tea Partiers sent Wall Street’s dream team to Washington, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2) and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3). Both are charter members of what the Center for Public Integrity has dubbed the “Banking Caucus.” According to Alison Fitzgerald writing in Slate:
The group has been central to efforts […] to undo many of the financial reforms enacted in the Dodd-Frank law of 2010. At least 30 bills have been proposed to the House during the 113th Congress, aimed at chipping away at aspects of Dodd-Frank. Members of the banking caucus sponsored or co-sponsored 20 of those laws, […]
Wagner has done an especially enthusiastic job for Wall Street – most recently she got so worked up over a proposed Department of Labor rule that would require financial advisers to put their client’s welfare before their own bottom line that she proclaimed at a meeting of brokers and financial advisers that “we are at war.” And she quickly jumped into battle, introducing a bill, the Retail Investor Protection Act, to take the rule-writing ability away from the Labor Department and give it to the more easily swayed (by Wall Street) SEC.
In return, Wagner has been well paid by banking giants like Goldman Sachs, Oppenheimer Funds and big insurance trade groups. Between 2011 when Wagner was first elected to office and 2014, she took in $776,511 from the financial industry. I’m willing to bet that when you add in this year’s take, well over a million dollars of the reported $1.88 million] she now has in the bank come from similar sources, making her the “most prolific money-raiser” among the members of Missouri’s congressional delegation.
Luetkemeyer, for his part, hasn’t been a slouch. Not only does he carry water for Wall Street, he’s a go-to guy for the sleazy payday lending industry. His Clear Relief Act, has been characterized as a “sweeping deregulation bill for community banks.”He has also proposed several bills intended to chip away at the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren’s brain-child, which was created under Dodd-Frank to protect consumers from the worst depredations of the financial industry. For these Herculean efforts he reaped $788,181 from the financial industry between 2010 and 2014.
While Wagner and Luetkemeyer are working hard for Wall Street, they clearly aren’t working for everyday Missourians or any of the millions of Americans hit hard by the financial crisis of 2008 – unequivocally the result of the type of wholesale deregulation our dynamic duo are now peddling. Nor do their priorities seem to line up with the rhetoric of the Tea Partiers who helped elect them.
Jeff Spross suggests that the solution to this seeming contradiction may lie in the relatively privileged status of many Tea Partiers:
Much of the American right’s understanding of economics and its relationship to government is characterized by a lack of desperation. The idea that questions of security or starvation, dignity or destitution, could trump the abstract principles of “how capitalism works,” is just absent. The Tea Party arguably views Wall Street not as manipulative overlords, but as competitors in the sport of capitalism. Richer and more powerful competitors, obviously. But competitors still. And while they don’t want their competitors getting unfairly bailed out by the referees, they don’t want the game to be changed, either.
It is for less fortunate and less privileged Americans that the game itself is the problem.
Essentially, crony capitalism doesn’t mean the same thing to Tea Partiers that it means to you and me. As David Weigel has observed, “the Tea Party, after all, is not wholly set against the GOP’s business class. It’s just the latest populist movement funded and fueled by the Big Business.” He implies that the Tea Party has functioned as an unwitting front:
[…] What’s the business-friendly label that’s going to be more potent than the Tea Party? Every successful movement of economic conservatives has been led in public by the non-rich, from the anti-tax farms of the 1920s to the property-tax-hating suburbanites in the 1970s to the “family farmers” who are, we’re told, the real victims of the estate tax. How do you make Rove-ism or Goldman Sachs-ism as popular as the Tea Party is, even now?