HOW BANKS BOUGHT THE TEA PARTY: Cash Transforms Populist Insurgents To Reliable Vote For Financial Industry

The 15 freshmen Republican representatives in the House Tea Party Caucus each ran in 2010 on a populist anti-Wall Street message, highlighting their opposition to bank bailouts like the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and criticizing Washington for enabling the banking sector as it became “Too Big to Fail.” After winning, all fifteen received significant PAC contributions from the banking industry — and have become a reliable vote and mouthpiece for the financial industry, a ThinkProgress analysis of campaign contributions, voting records and public statements reveals.

Rather than campaigning on a typical pro-business platform, the Tea Party freshmen tapped into public resentment of big banks and bailouts. For example, then-candidate Sandy Adams (R-FL) said on her campaign website that she “opposes government bailouts” and “would have voted against TARP and the auto bailout.” Jeff Landry (R-LA) said bailouts of private businesses had “corrupted our free market system by rewarding the irresponsible and penalizing the responsible,” blasting “bank bailouts, which led to taxpayer money directly or indirectly going into multi-million dollar bonuses.”

But in Congress, the Tea Party has toed the line for big banks. Eleven of the 15 have become co-sponsors of H.R. 3461, a top priority for the ABA. According to Americans for Financial Reform, the legislation would “tilt the playing field further in the direction of excessive deference to industry interests and tie the hands of regulators attempting to protect the public interest.” The bill would make it harder for bank examiners to do their job, giving regulatory responsibilities to an industry that’s already shown it can’t police itself.

Here is what happened:

The lone Tea Party freshman member of the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), has consistently voted with the industry and the Republican majority for weaker regulation of the sector.


And of the 15, all but McKinley and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) voted for the GOP’s 2013 budget proposal, which included the repeal of a key component of the financial sector regulation.

Their rhetoric has also become extremely friendly to the financial industry. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) famously yelled at a constituent: “Don’t blame banks, and don’t blame the marketplace for the mess we’re in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap! This pisses me off!” Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) bashed financial regulations as “part of a pattern of government interference in the private sector.” Rep. Blake Fahrenthold (R-TX) warned “excessive regulations will hurt our financial institutions.” Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) said that by regulating banking and financial institutions, “what they’re doing is getting into our lives. And many of us are trying to find a way to get them to pull back.” And several of the freshmen criticized Dodd-Frank’s regulations for limiting credit availability for small businesses.