They were summoned and most did come, traipsing over to the 51st floor of the Bank of America Tower in lower Manhattan. Others in distant climes signed on to a secure conference line. It was March 31st and the summoners - James Mahoney, Bank of America's head of Corporate Communications and Public Policy, and John Francis William Rogers, a Goldman Sachs Executive Vice President - had figured it was time to bring together the various enterprises a/k/a Mega Banks to discuss image control. With a Presidential campaign looming this gathering of the tribe was all about finding "how-to's" -- how to make regular people love us; how to remove "kick me" signs pasted on our backs by ungrateful politicians; how to let regulators know that we really have learned our lesson since the economic apocalypse. At first blush it did seem to be a concerted effort by attendees - Goldman, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of NY Mellon and State Street Corp. -- to paint lipstick on the proverbial pig.
Were they mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?
It seems so, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, with the group feverishly crafting a message that emphasized the "positive role banks play in the economy." While ordinary Main Street folk may pinch nostrils when hearing of the latest financial scandal it's clear from the article that the group's real ardor was directed towards those who roam the Congressional corridors of power; after all increasing anti-Wall Street sentiment has been spilling forth from not only the usual suspects, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but from the other side as well and it's downright terrifying when the likes of Rand Paul, Jeb Bush and John McCain all share their dislike of Too-Big-To-Fail with Democratic colleagues.
So if you're a Big Banker and the odds seem overwhelming and you're up against the wall, who ya gonna call? Try Warren-Busters, Messrs. Mahoney and Rogers, the meeting facilitators; heavyweights with the presence, experience and most of all, contacts, to ensure that the message ricochets loudly wherever Beltway power players meet and greet and that message is simple: go easy on us and our uber-wealthy banking institutions; haven't we suffered enough under the restraints of Dodd Frank?
Mahoney and Richards prefer to do their business in the shadows, far below the media radar screen. In one publicized case however, Mahoney - who is not a registered lobbyist -- was found pub crawling through a crowd attending a 2012 "politics and eggs" event sponsored by The New England Council. After listening to the meanderings of then Republican Presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, Mahoney casually sidled up to the Governor mumbling, "I'm from Bank of America and we'll help you out."
Even less well-known is stealthy heavy hitter, John Rogers, a man described in a Business Times article as "one of the scariest, most important people at Goldman Sachs." With a career that included stints at the White House and Treasury a source quoted in the article ventured to say "If wronged, his vengeance can kill careers." As Cardinal Richelieu was to Louis XIII, JR occupies a similar position at Goldman with an office that lives a hair breath away from CEO Lloyd Blankfein and down the hall from COO Gary Cohn.
The get-together of Big Bankers did strike me as having a whiff if not downright aroma of another meeting held fifty eighty years ago at an upstate New York estate belonging to one Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara; a meeting which brought together the reigning Dons and Capos of La Cosa Nostra to discuss matters of mutual interest: loan sharking, gambling, narcotics, along with other illegal revenue streams. The mob wasn't much known then and the Feds and local cops who got wind of the soiree swept through the place like an exterminator with a can of raid in search of cockroaches. Immortalized as the "Apalachin Summit" it entered the colorful lore of organized crime and forever secured the Mafia's criminal legacy.
Unlike that summit this one probably didn't include the possibility of kneecapping Liz Warren or setting leg hold traps outside of Bernie Sanders front door and it wasn't clear if there was a consensus among participants regarding a strategy, much less a campaign, to change the hearts and minds of those suspicious of anything that smells of Wall Street.
A spokesperson for the group, Laena Fallon, was equally vague when I requested a comment.
Large financial institutions are putting new rules in place, and they are less complex, less risky, and smaller than before the crisis. It is important to set the record straight when those facts are misstated and continue to communicate the critical role these companies play in Main Street job creation, economic stability, and American global leadership.
Long on rhetoric but short on details, so what are some other options for setting the record straight?
Goldman did try the charm angle a few years back, trotting out a warmer fuzzier Lloyd to meet the politicians, including Obama; even sending him into glittery Hollywood circles to rub elbows and press celebrity flesh. However, for most folks, Goldman remains "B" roll for all that's egregious about Wall Street.
If you can't beat 'em then buy 'em seems to be the more sensible approach for the industry.
The ever-spinning revolving door - powered by a sea of green - has successfully lured a whole host of regulatory celebrities back into the industry-fold, from SEC chief enforcer, Robert Khuzami, to Department of Justice top cop, Eric Holder.
My guess is that more meetings in search of porcine pulchritude will be scheduled although participants, most likely, will spend less time crying "woe is me" about the lack of Main Street love and more on crafting strategies to win friends and influence power brokers in the next administration.
Joel Sucher is a writer/producer with Pacific Street Films and currently completing a memoir, My Little Goldman Problem.
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