Late last Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Vice President Mike Pence voted to help Wall Street steal from Main Street consumers.
At issue was whether customers who have been ripped off or scammed by a bank, credit card company or lender have the right to go to court. Financial companies like Equifax and Wells Fargo have hidden forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it contracts, denying customers this basic American right, instead forcing customers into secretive private arbitration systems rigged to favor corporate crooks.
In July, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a rule restoring our right to join together in class actions to take financial scammers to court. In Tuesday night’s achingly close vote, Murkowski and 49 other Republicans voted to strike down the rule, and Pence provided the tie-breaking vote, handing a virtual Get Out of Jail Free card to financial institutions.
Murkowski betrayed Alaska voters, who supported the rule by more than 2-to-1. To be clear, you can’t get to nearly 70 percent support for anything in a state like Alaska without a whole lot of Republicans in the mix. Even conservative pollsters found that nearly two out of three Republicans nationwide wanted to keep the rule. So why did Murkowski flout the will of her own constituents? Wall Street money.
The financial sector has contributed tens of millions of dollars to senators who supported overturning the rule and spent untold amounts lobbying against the rule. Murkowski herself has received more than $1.8 million in lifetime contributions from the financial sector — a small price to pay for the billions in profits they will reap by stealing from consumers.
Who will be hurt by Murkowski’s collaboration with Wall Street: nearly 6,000 Wells Fargo customers in Alaska alone who had fake accounts opened in their name, military servicemembers who are in no position to arbitrate small claims while fighting overseas, millions of consumers whose personal information was stolen in the Equifax data breach, and countless others whose stories will never be told because arbitration takes place in secret — hidden from authorities who could put a stop to financial rip-offs and abuses.
It’s telling that Murkowski never spoke on the U.S. Senate floor during Tuesday night’s debate to defend her vote. Her silence speaks volumes. Ultimately though, it’s her actions that count.
Murkowski, Pence and Trump’s Cabinet of big bank alums are moving in lockstep with Wall Street’s agenda — one that couldn’t be further from Trump’s populist campaign trail rhetoric. It’s an agenda that includes rolling back vital consumer protections like the arbitration rule, wiping away commonsense reforms put in place after the 2008 financial crisis that would prevent another economic meltdown and tax giveaways to big corporations and the superrich.
No matter how often she’s criticized the president’s offensive behavior, Murkowski is fully on board with Pence and Trump’s Wall Street agenda.
• Lisa Gilbert is vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, which led the fight to defend the arbitration rule. She resides in Washington, D.C. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.