Beware the rhetoric of Goldman Sachs populists 

‘If these folks want a fight,” President Barack Obama said Thursday, tossing a rhetorical barb at Wall Street, “it’s a fight I’m ready to have.”

But what if they don’t want a fight?

To begin with, the substance of his proposed regulations: Right now, all we have is a vague first draft. We know they will be fleshed out, rewritten, amended, tweaked, ping-ponged and massaged.

All along, we know Wall Street lobbyists will be at the table. The Wall Street “fat cats,” as Obama calls them, probably aren’t really looking for a fight as much as a seat at the table — and the numbers suggest they’ve earned that seat.

For his presidential campaign in which Wall Street regulation was a mantra, Obama’s top source of funds was investment bank giant Goldman Sachs, whose employees, partners and executives gave him $995,000. It was the most any politician has raised from any one company in a single election since the age of “soft money” ended.

Obama is touting his proposed bank tax and financial regulations as a test of “whose side” politicians are on, the bankers’ or the people’s. But check the numbers at OpenSecrets.org and you get an interesting clue as to whose side Wall Street is on.

The securities and investment industry has favored Democrats by more than a two-to-one margin so far this cycle. The top eight recipients of Wall Street PAC money this election are all Democrats.

The Wall Street flood of cash to Democrats is not simply about buttering up those in power. A closer look at the cash reveals that Wall Street likely wants Democrats to win. The top recipient of Wall Street PAC money is Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., distinguished mostly by his being a very vulnerable incumbent.

Vulnerable Democratic senators Chris Dodd (since dropped out), Blanche Lincoln and Harry Reid are all in the top seven.

And 10 days ago, once it was clear Martha Coakley’s campaign was in trouble, Citigroup’s PAC cut a $2,400 check while many lobbyists representing Goldman, Citi and Morgan Stanley shelled out for her Capitol Hill wine-bar fundraiser.

Those Wall Street lobbyists Obama likes to badmouth ... they’re his friends, too. The lead Wall Street lobbyist is Thomas Nides, chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Nides is an old Democratic hand. During the Clinton administration, Nides was vice president of human resources at Fannie Mae, which was basically a taxpayer-underwritten, money-laundering operation enriching well-connected Democrats.

Nides gave the maximum to Obama in late 2007, even before Obama was the Iowa front-runner, and then he gave Obama the maximum again for the general election. He also donated to the campaigns of Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel, now the vice president and White House chief of staff, respectively. All in all, he’s given more than $70,000 to Democrats and nothing to Republicans.

Bank of America’s K Street lobbyists include Obama administration alumnus Oscar Ramirez and Chuck Schumer’s former press secretary Izzy Klein, both at the Podesta Group, which was co-founded by John Podesta, who served as Obama’s transition director and has visited the White House more than 15 times.

Goldman Sachs’ K Street lobbyists include former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt and his former chief of staff Steve Elmendorf, along with Jonathan Talisman, Bill Clinton’s assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy.

Obama’s record as a bailout booster also makes it tough to buy his current schtick as anti-Wall Street crusader.

Remember, Obama, as the presidential nominee and head of the party controlling Congress, could have blocked Bush’s bailout in late 2008. Instead, he rallied behind it, and rewarded its architects, Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, by promoting Geithner and renominating Bernanke.

So when Obama, touting his bank tax, says, “We want our money back,” recall that it was the president who helped the banks take your money — without asking you. It’s as if a mugger took your wallet and gave it to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and then posed as your champion by promising to raise Blankfein’s taxes.

But everyone who opposes the bank tax — which, of course, the banks will just pass through to customers — will be tarred by the Democratic machine as siding with Wall Street instead of Main Street. Same with Obama’s proposed financial regulations, even though they would institutionalize bailouts by dubbing Goldman Sachs and its ilk “Tier One Financial Institutions.”

The media will follow Obama’s rhetoric in the coming months and paint him as the scourge of Wall Street. It’s more illuminating, though, to follow the legislation — and follow the money.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.

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Timothy P. Carney

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