Is JP Morgan a Farmer?

March 20, 2013 | Salon |

Imagine you’re a finance lobbyist and want to move deregulation and other industry-friendly policies through Congress. While you might think the House Financial Services Committee would be the logical place to do it — since it has jurisdiction over financial issues, naturally — what if there were a sneaky way to maneuver it through a far less scrutinized committee, so most people would have no idea what you were doing?

This is the story of how the world’s largest banks came to love the House Agriculture Committee.

To see how this all works, just look at the hearing on these derivatives bills, held last week. When Ag Committee chairman Frank Lucas wasn’t openly parroting industry scare tactics about energy price spikes from regulation, he called on a list of witnesses that included four industry trade group representatives and one public advocate from Americans for Financial Reform, Wallace Turbeville. (He did great.) Or for an even clearer indication, read these PowerPoint slides created for Ag Committee staff by the Coalition for Derivatives End-Users, an industry-backed lobbyist organization. This extremely one-sided perspective on the issue simply becomes the default position for committee members and their staffs, an example of the “cognitive capture” in D.C. that sidelines alternative voices. And it all happens under the radar.

In this case, a bipartisan collection of Wall Street-friendly congressmen pitched these bills to the Ag Committee as mere “technical corrections” that would prevent “unintended consequences.” In the House, the effort is led by Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs vice president who represents the Connecticut bedroom communities of Wall Street traders. Himes, who has aggressively defended the bills, was also just named the national finance chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats. So this effort to bestow gifts on Wall Street comes from the very congressman who has to raise money for his colleagues in the midterm elections, presumably from the same bankers he’s aiding. And of course, his role as finance chair makes him extremely important to his fellow members, who then trust him as he drops legislation to gut derivatives rules.