Yesterday, in a congressional hearing about major banking institutions' use of TARP funds (a.k.a. the "bailout" funds approved by Congress last fall), something that can only be described as "enraging" occurred.
When pressed by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis did not deny that his company lobbied against pending legislation - namely the Employee Free Choice Act - while receiving taxpayer money. (For the full background on the topic, see our earlier reporting.)
Lewis defended the company's lobbying actions, arguing "doing what's in the best interest of your company is always the best thing to do." Watch it here:
What does Ken Lewis mean by "best interest of our company?" To us, a company is not just the executives and shareholders, but its employees, its customers, and its community.
So it's tough to reconcile Lewis' apparent opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act with an internal Bank of America memo about the bill. In that memo, Bank of America admitted the bill would mean:
increased spending power of lower income consumers as this would be a de facto wage and benefit increase.
Let's get this straight: Bank of America admits that the Employee Free Choice Act would raise wages and benefits for consumers, pumping money into our flailing economy. But Bank of America will apparently continue its efforts to fight this bill despite knowing it can help the economy.
Ken Lewis makes $9,803 an hour, while his tellers - those that make Bank of America run - make $10-$15 an hour. A number of Lewis' 247,000 employees lack adequate health coverage and instead depend on state subsidies." While Lewis himself did not take a bonus for last year, Lewis made sure that high level staff still got bonuses even though Bank of America recently announced it was laying off another 35,000 employees.
So, we've got to ask. Is it really in the best interest of "the company" to actively lobby against measures that would improve the lives of very same people that work within the company - or is it just in the best interest of Ken Lewis?
Any company that receives money from the bailout should not be allowed to influence public policy. As the blog Turn Maine Blue noted:
Now there are efforts to provide that oversight, one of which is the Troubled Asset Relief Program Transparency Reporting Act (S. 133), cosponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe.
But shouldn't this oversight also concern itself with how the recipients of TARP funds also lobby Congress? For example, a couple of weeks back Huffington Post broke the story that Bank of America, which has received $25 billion from the Fed, is actively lobbying against the Employee Free Choice Act.
Should banks that receive TARP money be allowed to lobby Congress about issues like the EFCA?
Americans need a guarantee that companies receiving billions from taxpayers will not lobby or otherwise influence legislation.
If that doesn't sit well with Ken Lewis, then he can give back his company's $45 billion bailout.