POLITICS

Kamala Harris Set To Raise Money With Former Wells Fargo Executive

The lobbying executive defended the bank during the fake accounts scandal. When Harris was California attorney general, she sued the bank for privacy violations.

A former Wells Fargo executive who defended the bank during its massive fake accounts scandal is hosting a fundraiser for Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign on Saturday, according to an invitation obtained by HuffPost. 

The former executive, Miguel Bustos, worked from 2013 to 2017 as Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of government and community relations, where he oversaw lobbying and community outreach efforts in six western states: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Montana and Utah.

Bustos is hosting a fundraiser for Harris on Saturday night in San Francisco, timed to coincide with the city’s Pride Weekend celebrations and one day before the crucial second-quarter fundraising deadline.

The minimum donation for an attendee is $500, while “supporters” need to contribute $1,000 and “sponsors” who get a photo with Harris need to contribute the federal maximum donation of $2,800. 

The fundraiser lends ammunition to progressives, many aligned with the rival presidential campaigns of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are skeptical of Harris’ willingness to take on Wall Street and the financial industry. 

In a statement, Harris spokesman Ian Sams defended the candidate’s record.

“She literally investigated Wells Fargo as Attorney General and won an $8.5 million settlement for Californians, and she’s the only major candidate in this race who’s actually prosecuted banks for screwing people over,” Sams said. “Her record of real action to take on bad corporate actors on behalf of consumers shows exactly who she would fight for as president.”

Sams is referring to an $8.5 million settlement that Harris and five district attorneys in the state reached with the bank in March 2016. The bank had violated state privacy laws by failing to “timely and adequately” disclose it was recording phone calls with members of the public. (The fine is equivalent to about .2% of Wells Fargo’s profit during the quarter the settlement was announced.) 

California Sen. Kamala Harris sued Wells Fargo when she was the state's attorney general. Now, she's raising money with one o
California Sen. Kamala Harris sued Wells Fargo when she was the state's attorney general. Now, she's raising money with one of its former executives.

But progressive critics have typically focused on Harris’ role in a more high-profile settlement: the national mortgage settlement that Harris, the Obama administration and other state attorneys general reached with Wells Fargo and the four other largest banks in America in 2012. Progressives have long said the $25 billion agreement didn’t go nearly far enough to punish the banks and help homeowners trapped by the foreclosure crisis in the wake of the Great Recession. No bank executive involved in the foreclosure fraud went to prison.

Wells Fargo’s highest-profile recent scandal was the fake accounts debacle. From 2009 to 2015, the company opened up more than 3.5 million fake bank and credit card accounts, leading nearly 200,000 customers to pay unnecessary fees. Warren aggressively investigated the bank, and the scandal led to the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf, along nearly $3 billion in fines and settlement costs.

During the scandal, Bustos defended the bank when the city council of Vallejo, California, considered moving its accounts away from Wells Fargo. While Bustos admitted the bank had “made mistakes,” he also pleaded with the city council to stick with it.

“The one thing I learned in life is that no one is perfect, no one,” he said, according to a September 2017 article in the Vallejo Times-Herald. “But one thing I learned is that you have forgiveness and you have redemption. What we are asking is, you know what, work with us to be a better bank.”

The city council eventually voted to cut ties with Wells Fargo. 

Bustos’ LinkedIn profile says he is now the senior director of the center for social justice at GlideSF, a prominent progressive church in San Francisco. 

Harris’ presidential campaign, meanwhile, has received more than $16,000 from Wells Fargo employees, according to FEC records – including maxed-out donations from the company’s former chief compliance officer and an executive who oversaw the company’s credit card business. Harris also received $2,300 from Brenda Wright, a Wells Fargo executive whose position on San Francisco’s pension board sparked protests in 2013. 

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