Will Wall Street Grow a Conscience?

5 mins read
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For too long, Wall Street has bankrolled Trump and his allies while turning a blind eye to their anti-democratic and racist rhetoric and actions. Now, after a mob brandishing symbols of white supremacy and treason stormed the U.S. Capitol, many of the largest corporate donors reassessed, froze, withdrew, or entirely ceased political giving to the 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to certifying Joe Biden’s victory.

As we commemorate the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we can understand the four different courses of action taken by Wall Street through King’s words:

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ 
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ 
And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ 
But Conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Feb. 6, 1968, Washington, D.C.

Is It Safe?

Some corporate actors are playing it safe in the short term by publishing press releases without taking further action. The largest corporate PAC to the 147 Republican objectors, the American Bankers Association, gave $1.3 million in the 2020 election. While CEO and President Rob Nichols bemoaned January 6 as a “dark day,” ABA said only that it would take the “troubling events” into consideration as it makes contributions. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, one of Wall Street’s most prominent backers of Trump, similarly rebuked the “mob’s attempt to undermine the Constitution” without retracting any political donations.

Under CEO Rob Nichols, the American Bankers Association became the largest corporate PAC donor to the 147 Republicans who objected to certifying President-elect Biden’s victory.

By choosing to be silent, stand by, and do nothing, these corporations abandoned leadership for Cowardice as they sided with the Republican oppressors of American democracy.

Is It Politic?

Some bankers thought it politic to temporarily pause contributions to all political parties rather than permanently for a select few politicians. After JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs announced six-month suspensions for donations to Democratic and Republican lawmakers on January 10, Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted that the decision “treats conspirators and the innocent the same” and wisely pointed out that the banks are encouraging seditious behavior on the part of future lawmakers. 

Wedded to Expediency, these corporations valued looking like they were doing something over taking meaningful action.

Is It Popular?

A handful of corporate giants on Wall Street chose the popular route to scrap donations to the 139 Republican House members and 8 senators who objected to certification. Among those to cut off their political funds were some of the biggest banks, Morgan Stanley, American Express, and Commerce Bank. Of course, all three of their corporate PACs threw more money at Republicans than Democrats this election cycle. 

Vanity on full display; these corporations failed to ask themselves why they financed these politicians in the first place.

Is It Right?

Few donors committed to the right path to end all political giving for good. The Charles Schwab Corporation terminated political contributions and abandoned its PAC. The firm then donated the remaining funds to groups including historically Black colleges and universities. That shows signs of a corporate Conscience.

That said, corporations have ample avenues to spend money in politics through lobbying, connections, or individual donations. The Schwab Corporation spent $460,000 on federal candidates this election cycle, chump change to the $14 million personally donated by Chairman Charles Schwab to Republican organizations. 

Wall Street has also fostered equally anti-democratic trends that have exacerbated racial economic inequality and social stratification to alarming levels comparable to when Dr. King delivered his remarks in 1968. Today, fewer than one percent of the mortgages issued by the majority of banks are to Black Americans. The United States lost as much as $16 trillion in wealth due to racial discrimination over the past 20 years.

Can bankers rise above Cowardice, Expedience, and Vanity, and act on Conscience? Dr. King outlined the path. Wall Street needs to take it.

Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash

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