LA weighs steps to hold banks more accountable & calls for end to ‘corporate personhood’

Posted on December 8, 2011


Looks like LA is the city to follow for corporate accountability lately! Let’s hope these ideas are followed-through on and that other cities follow suit.


L.A. calls for end to ‘corporate personhood’

December 6, 2011 |  1:54 pm

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

At a packed City Council meeting that included remarks from a man in a top hat with fake money tucked in the pocket of his suit, Los Angeles lawmakers Tuesday called for more regulations on how much corporations can spend on political campaigns.

The vote in support of state and federal legislation that would end so-called “corporate personhood” is largely symbolic. But activist Mary Beth Fielder, who spoke in favor of the resolution, called it “a symbol that’s going to be heard around the world.”

The council resolution includes support for a constitutional amendment that would assert that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights, and that spending money is not a form of free speech.

City Council President Eric Garcetti, the resolution’s sponsor, said such actions are necessary because “big special interest money” is behind much of the gridlock in Washington.

He blamed a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which rolled back legal restrictions on corporate spending on the grounds that political speech by a business entity should receive the same 1st Amendment protections that people do. It allows corporations and other groups to spend unlimited money on behalf of candidates, although limits on how much they can contribute directly to candidates remain.“The flood of money since Citizens United is literally drowning out our voices,” said Garcetti, who is running for mayor in 2013. “If we’re going to be moving forward in this country, we need less special interest money in the political process.”

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who also supported the resolution, said corporations are “trying to take over every aspect of our lives.”

“Corporations are at the wheel of America,” Alarcon said. “And they are driving us to destruction.”

Corporations, of course, are frequent contributors in Los Angeles elections, and each of the council members who spoke in favor of the resolution have been the beneficiaries of such spending. Since 2007, for example, Alarcon has received nearly $5,000 in campaign donations from three corporations and their political action committees: Clear Channel, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures.

Around 100 people showed up to support the resolution, including members of Occupy L.A. There was only one dissenter, a man dressed in jest like the mogul from Monopoly. He was there to represent the wealthy, he said, before pleading with the council: “Please don’t vote for this.”

For the record, 3:36 p.m. Dec. 7: A previous version of this post referred to Mary Beth Fielder, who spoke in favor of the resolution, as an anti-corporate activist. Fielder says she is not anti-corporate, simply against corporations having undue influence in politics.


Los Angeles weighs steps to hold its banks more accountable

Occupy L.A. activists and others seek ambitious reforms for public scrutiny of lending practices, and the city works on a compromise. A vote is due next month.

LOS ANGELES, CA-DECEMBER 5, 2011: Occupy L.A. activists march towards Los Angeles City Hall on December 5, 2011 to attend the budget and finance committee meeting, after a rally across the street, calling for amendments to the Responsible Banking Ordinance, proposed by Councilmember Richard Alarcon in 2009, creating a report card that allows the public to review and track the investment and lending activity of financial institutions that want to do business with the City. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles TimesDecember 6, 2011

Under pressure to deliver a law that will hold banks more accountable, the City Council began Monday to debate a proposal that would require some banks seeking the city’s financial business to disclose detailed information about their lending practices in Los Angeles.

The proposal falls far short of the ambitious agenda pressed by Occupy L.A., community activists and union workers who drew about 160 protesters to a raucous rally outside City Hall. It would not use the lending information to rate the banks when awarding city contracts for financial services, and it would not apply the reporting requirement to banks that also underwrite the city’s bonds.

Miguel Santana, the city’s chief administrative officer and the author of the slimmed-down proposal, described it as an attempt to strike a compromise between the banks and community activists. He had earlier warned the council that a proposed “responsible banking” ordinance could cost $58 million or more if it required the city to end contracts with some of its lenders.

He said the proposal would hold banks more accountable by exposing their lending records to public scrutiny. Every year, the banks covered by the proposal would be required to report by census tract on their loans to small businesses and their participation in programs to reduce mortgage principal for homeowners. The proposal would apply to the city’s retail bank, Wells Fargo; commercial banks that lend to the city; and any other bank that wants to do such business with the city in the future.

“We’re not letting anybody off the hook,” he said.

The institutions that do the city’s investment banking would be subject to different corporate responsibility reporting requirements, such as detailing their involvement in local charities or scholarships.

But Councilman Richard Alarcon, who proposed the “responsible banking” ordinance two years ago, told the Budget and Finance Committee on Monday that rating the banks based on the lending data was key to the proposed law’s aim to prod the banks to do more to help distressed homeowners and invest in the community. “Under a rating system, I believe we would create a race to the top,” he said.

He also encouraged the committee to consider extending the lending reporting requirement to banks that are involved only with the city’s investment banking business, which he said would go beyond what other cities have done. “We can be cutting-edge. We can be first in the nation,” he said.

At the same time, Alarcon also said he was pleased that the council was moving forward on the long-stagnant issue. At the rally, Alarcon credited community pressure for dislodging the idea. “We’ve come a long way because of this loud voice that has come from the people,” he said.

The crowd held placards saying “We are the 99%” and “Hold Banks Accountable” and a big banner reading “Take Taxpayer Money Out of Wall Street Banks.” Protesters, led by Michael Green, a deputy regional director with SEIU Local 721, sang out a rhythmic call-and-response to the snappy accompaniment of a snare drum and a bass drum.

“Banks got bailed out!” Green chanted. “We got sold out!” the crowded yelled.

Bob Schoonover, the local’s president, told the crowd, “Wall Street banks shattered this economy, which led to people losing their jobs, their houses. It led to local government’s funding being devastated, affecting city services. But the odd thing is they got bailed out by you know who. Us.”

Santana’s proposal called for the council to pass a broad ordinance that would commit the city to requiring banks to disclose lending information but would leave the details to be worked out by an ad hoc group that would make recommendations by the end of June. He suggested it include community activists, banking industry representatives and city officials. Alarcon countered with a proposal for a larger group that would also include community reinvestment experts.

The budget committee appeared poised to make a decision, but it postponed a vote until January to allow time for Santana to pull together a report that compares the competing proposals.