For a Presidential candidate whose own allies say a McCain presidency would be another Bush economic term (oh, doesn’t that fill the country with glee…), the further exposure of self-serving, curmudgeonly Phil Gramm as McCain’s main economics guru is timely. The YouTube is from last night’s Countdown report on Gramm’s lobbying activities for banking giant UBS — if you missed it, it’s worth a watch.
But who exactly is Phil Gramm? Let’s take a peek:
According to the lobbyist filing records MSNBC produced in its report, Phil Gramm has taken McCain’s "Charlie Black Sweet Talk Expressway bus" to Lobbying Town all the way to the bank…literally.
Gramm only stopped lobbying for international banking giant UBS officially on April 18, 2008, well after McCain clinched the GOP nod — but also well after Gramm had written and shaped the McCain campaign’s banking policies in response to the subprime mortgage crisis…in which UBS is also embroiled, and for whom Gramm continues to be employed as a UBS vice chairman regarding investment banking. Yes, you read that correctly.
Who is UBS, exactly, that they have now restricted their international banking staff from traveling to the US during their pending SEC investigation? And why are they in legal trouble for allegedly running a tax-evasion arm out of their US branch? Josh has some background, including this link on McCain’s speech on banking policy fully a month before Gramm quit lobbying for UBS. Funny how that speech calls for banking folks to decide how to handle things amongst themselves rather than tightening regulation — wonder whose idea that was? Things that make you go "hmmmmm," indeed. Hilzoy has a good thumbnail sketch.
Why on earth would John McCain think this man was remotely appropriate to be his economic adviser? Because McCain knows nothing about economics. And just like his "pick a winner" foreign policy hodge podge, it’s all about who might have a "reputation" among his pals who…quite coincidentally, I’m sure…also happen to be lobbyists for the very same industries would help to shape policy in a McCain Administration.
Cozy, isn’t it? It clearly is for Phil Gramm. But it gets even cozier when you peek below the surface.
Think your energy bills are high now? Meet Phil Graham, Enron’s Senator from Texas, who makes self-dealing for pals and cronies a family affair:
The one person in the Enron scandal whom congress is not likely to subpoena is its own revered Phil Gramm, the retiring Republican Senator from Texas. Gramm and his wife, Wendy, have tight links to Enron, Wendy being a director and Gramm the pusher of legislation that assisted the company during its troubles last year….
Read that entire article. The entire sordid tale of Gramm family entanglement in the Enron mess has to be read to be believed. Take the Bush/Cheney Administration policies…and then add some zeroes to what you could expect from Gramm at the helm of the nation’s economic policy decisions. This snippet from a Molly Ivins column sending him out of the Senate with appropriate fanfare sums it up nicely:
…Gramm, the great crusader against government spending, has spent his entire life on the government tit. He was born at a military hospital, raised on his father’s Army pay, went to private school at Georgia Military Academy on military insurance after his father died, paid for his college tuition with same, got a National Defense Fellowship to graduate school, taught at a state-supported school, and made generous use of his Senate expense account. In 1987, a Dallas developer named Jerry Stiles flew a construction crew to Maryland to work on Gramm’s summer home. Stiles spent $117,000 on the project but was kind enough to bill Gramm only $63,433. When Stiles got in trouble for misusing funds from a savings and loan he owned, Gramm did him some "routine" favors with regulators. Stiles was later convicted on 11 counts of conspiracy and bribery.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the recipient of enormous banking contributions, Gramm did an even bigger favor for the financial industry in 1999 when he sponsored the Financial Services Modernization Act allowing banks, securities firms, and insurance companies to combine. The bill weakened the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to help meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Gramm described community groups that use the CRA as "protection rackets" that extort funds from the poor, powerless banks. The bill is also a disaster for the privacy of bank customers and weakens regulatory supervision. As Gramm proudly declared, "You’re not going to find a single bank, insurance company, or securities company that will say they were hurt financially by this bill."
To be fair, Gramm occasionally found it in his heart to assist the poor — like the time he suggested that mothers on welfare would be better off working for $2.50 an hour. A more typical Gramm vote, though, came on an energy bill that benefited oil and gas companies at the expense of consumers. "There are winners and losers in every economic decision," Gramm said portentously. He was then getting more oil and gas money than any other member of the Senate….
All of this reminds me of a story I first heard, I think, from Tom Edsall. Back in the 1960s, the chairman of the insurance committee of the Maryland House of Delegates was also the owner of an insurance brokerage. Asked about the potential conflict of interest, he said, "No, being chairman don’t conflict with my interest at all."
That about sums it up, doesn’t it?