As one who's been critical of CNN's Lou Dobbs a time or two, I was glad to see him and correspondents Louise Schiavone and Kitty Pilgrim perform a valuable public service on Friday's edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight. They detailed political contributions made by finance, insurance and real estate firms to four members of Congress taking lead roles in crafting the Wall Street bailout:
DOBBS: Just four members of Congress will lead the negotiations of what President Bush and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want to be the largest government bailout in history. Democrats, Senator Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Congressman Frank, Chairman, House Financial Services Committee. Republicans Senator Judd Gregg, ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Congressman Roy Blunt, House Minority Whip.
That's your lineup, folks and over the past two decades, those four men have accepted almost $20 million in donations from finance, insurance and real estate firms. Yes, the very same firms that stand to benefit from that almost trillion dollar federal bailout.
We have two reports tonight. We begin with Louise Schiavone and the Democrats.
LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the financial world awaits a lifeline from Washington, they're looking to friends in Congress whom they've helped over the years. Friends who have stood by in key committees as debts bloomed and regulation waned.
DANIEL CLIFTON, STRATEGAS RESEARCH PARTNERS: They had politicians on both sides of the aisle that were pushing for easier credit. Chairman Frank and Chairman Dodd have been the facilitators of that on the committees. And moving forward legislation that has created a lot of this systematic risk that we are facing.
SCHIAVONE: According to Opensecrets.org, the Web site for the Center for Responsive Politics, on the Democratic side from 1989 to present, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd has accepted a total of $13,205,556 in campaign contributions, both in PAC and individual money, from the finance, insurance of real estate sectors.
MASSIE RITSCH, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: The last time that Congress took out the structure of the financial industry, Senator Dodd supported letting banks get even larger and get into new lines of riskier businesses.
SCHIAVONE: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has accepted a total of $2,494,611 in campaign contributions from the same sectors. In Frank's case, top donors include employees from the American Bankers Association, the company that's just bought Washington Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, and the National Association of Realtors. In the case of Senator Dodd, top donors include Citigroup, Bear Stearns and JPMorgan Chase. Dodd and Frank now play key roles in bailout talks.
JD FOSTER, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Certainly Congress bears some responsibility for this coming to pass. There are a lot of federal policies that contributed to the current situation.
SCHIAVONE: House Financial Services Committee Chairman Frank told LOU DOBBS TONIGHT quote, "specifically, I have been a consistent supporter of strong consumer protection, support for adequately funded affordable housing, and support for efficient functioning of financial institutions in our economy, and I find no contradiction in working for all three objectives."
SCHIAVONE: Lou, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd had no comment for us. But in this instance, the three objectives outlined by Frank appear to have been at cross-purposes, with homeowners threatened by institutions near collapse, the economy in shambles and consumers on the hook for a massive bailout -- Lou.
DOBBS: Louise, thank you very much. Louise Schiavone. Well let's turn our attention now to the Republicans, represented by Senator Greg and Congressman Blunt, the second ranking Republican in the House.
Kitty Pilgrim now with the Republicans.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressman Roy Blunt and Senator Judd Gregg are no strangers to the banking industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, the Web site for the Center for Responsive Politics, Congressman Roy Blunt's top political donors are in securities, investment, real estate and commercial banks, contributing an estimated $2 million over the course of his career.
And this year alone, employees and political action committees from financial and securities firms gave $144,000. Commercial banks contributed $83,000. And real estate contributed $107,000. Blunt, who is up for re-election this year, has a history of supporting business and has given a 93 percent approval rating by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for voting in their interest. Bill Allison is with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates greater government transparency.
BILL ALLISON, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: He's also been somebody who's been very much, again, a creature of Kay Street (ph) and very much -- lobbyists have had his ear and he's been very much kind of an insider in terms of how he's run his or how he's you know functioned in Washington.
PILGRIM: Blunt also voted back in 1999 to roll back banking regulations and sided with the banking industry on overhauling the bankruptcy code in 2005 to make consumers repay more of their debt during bankruptcy. Senator Judd Gregg's top funding sources this election year are the securities and insurance industries which provide 21 percent of its funding.
RITSCH: Since Senator Gregg has been in Congress, he's collected about $1 million from the financial sector and the industries that are most interested in this bailout. The insurance industry is his number one contributor.
PILGRIM: Citigroup is listed as the number four top contributor in this election year. Senator Judd Gregg has a Chamber of Commerce ranking voting 88 percent of the time pro business.
PILGRIM: Now, public advocacy and watchdog groups say because of the deep ties to business and banking, members of Congress involved in crafting the bailout should not be allowed to negotiate behind closed doors without the knowledge of the public -- Lou.
DOBBS: Well in point of fact, and Judd Gregg, how much has he taken from...
DOBBS: $1 million.
DOBBS: Well he and -- I mean that's sort of shocking. He and Blunt are pikers (ph). I mean Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank have been making them look silly. I mean you're talking tremendous sums of money on the Democratic side. I'm a little embarrassed for the Republicans. They're supposed to be the party of business and they're not getting their fair share of the business.
Dobbs is right. The Republicans received chump change compared to the bucks pulled down by their Democratic counterparts. Then again, it seems to me that the Democrats bear considerably more culpability for the financial quagmire we find ourselves in.
More than a year ago, the $13 million man Dodd told CNN's Gerri Willis that predatory lenders were responsible for the impending mortgage crisis: "The fact that any reputable banker or lender would make these kinds of loans so widely available to wage-earners, to elderly families on fixed incomes, or to lower-income, unsophisticated borrowers, strikes me as unconscionable and deceptive." This is the same Dodd who for years has demanded, along with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Jesse Jackson, that lenders make loans to "lower-income, unsophisticated borrowers." Unsophisticated folks have been a core Democratic constituency for decades.
Then there's $2.5 million Barney Frank, who was quoted by the New York Times in 2003:
''These two entities -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are not facing any kind of financial crisis,'' said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ''The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.''
Lou Dobbs deserves commendation for detailing the money trail. Politicians immersed in developing the bailout need to be watched carefully. Their past performances justify little optimism for the legislation they'll draft. We know who's going to pay. With these characters, the big question will be who benefits.