Right-wing media have used questioning by CBS' Steve Kroft of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to accuse her of a "conflict of interest" based on an investment in Visa, ignoring her shepherding of historic credit card reform. Kroft's questioning will air on tonight's 60 Minutes, which was reportedly based on a forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, the editor in chief of one of Andrew Breitbart's websites. Schweizer has worked on behalf of President Bush, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin, and drew criticism for a previous false attack on Pelosi.
Pelosi Asked About Potential "Conflict Of Interest" On Credit Card Reform. During a November 3 press conference, Pelosi was asked by Kroft whether she had invested in Visa, and whether that presented a conflict of interest when she served as speaker of the House and oversaw efforts to reform the credit card industry. Pelosi responded in part:
PELOSI: Well, I will hold my record in terms of fighting the credit card companies, as a speaker of the House or as a member of Congress, up against anyone. We had passed the Credit Cardholder Bill of Rights. I don't know what your point is. You like one bill better than another bill. No, this was the big powerful bill, and in fact we were able to achieve both once we were able to have a Democratic president. That is really all I am saying. [Press conference with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, 11/3/11, via YouTube]
Pelosi's Office: 60 Minutes Said Report Was Based On Schweizer's Book. From The San Francisco Chronicle:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is the subject of a report on the stock investments of members of Congress that is to air Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes."
Pelosi's office said "60 Minutes" told her staff that the report was based on a book by conservative writer Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who earlier had accused the Pelosis of hypocrisy for hiring non-union labor at their Napa vineyard. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12/11]
Schweizer Is A Research Fellow At The Conservative Hoover Institution. Schweizer is identified as "William J. Casey Research Fellow" at Hoover. His bio also states: "Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution." [Hoover.org, accessed 11/13/11]
Schweizer Is Editor In Chief At Andrew Breitbart's "Big Peace" Website. The masthead of the website Big Peace, part of right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart's "Big" network, lists Schweizer as "Editor in Chief." [BigPeace.com, accessed 11/13/11]
Schweizer Helped Write Glenn Beck's Broke. Schweizer is listed as a contributor to former Fox News host Glenn Beck's book Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure (Threshold Editions, October 2010). [Simon & Schuster, accessed 11/13/11]
Schweizer Was A Speechwriting Consultant For Bush Administration, Then Opened Communications Firm With Torture Apologist Marc Thiessen. From Politico:
Testifying at a whopper of a congressional hearing? Drafting that tell-all about the George W. Bush era? Or writing an op-ed for The Washington Post?
If so, you might check out the new communications firm Oval Office Writers in Alexandria, Va.
The aptly named company is the brainchild of Marc Thiessen and Peter Schweizer, who've done a little Oval Office business of their own.
Thiessen was a chief speechwriter for Bush 43 and handled his last two State of the Union addresses. Earlier, he had written for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Schweizer, a White House speechwriting consultant in the last year of the Bush administration, is a best-selling author who knew Thiessen when he worked for the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). [Politico, 3/25/09, emphasis added]
Sarah Palin Hired Schweizer To Advise Her On Foreign Policy. From ABCNews.com:
Sarah Palin has a new foreign policy adviser. Out is Randy Scheunemann, one of the few remaining links to her time on the McCain/Palin ticket, and in is Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution. [ABCNews.com, 5/3/11]
In Previous Book, Schweizer Attacked Pelosi For Hiring Non-Union Labor For Work On Vineyard. From the website of KGO-TV, ABC's San Francisco affiliate:
Nancy Pelosi has received awards from the United Farm Workers Union. She has accepted considerable campaign financing from unions. And yet the vineyard that she and her husband own in Napa is non-union. That's the gist of the allegation of hypocrisy, but it's far from the whole story.
The Pelosis' vineyard is about seven acres on the south side of St. Helena. On her financial disclosure statements Pelosi lists the vineyard at between $5 million and $25 million dollars. As Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution pointed out in his book, the Pelosis hire non-union labor.
Peter Schweizer, Hoover Research Fellow: "She has won the Cesar Chavez award from the United Farm Workers Union and yet they don't use members of the United Farm Workers Union to actually pick the grapes on their winery."
Schweizer calls it liberal hypocrisy. And with Pelosi set to become the next speaker of the House, his charges are getting a lot of attention. [KGO-TV, 11/28/06]
FACT: The Pelosis Pay Better Than Union Vineyards In the Area. From KGO:
But in Napa we found the facts don't fit Schweizer's claim. For starters, the Pelosis pay more than union workers are paid in the same valley -- that from the pastor at St. Helena's Catholic Church, a well known advocate for farm workers who's involved in labor negotiations with the same labor manager the Pelosis use.
Monsignor John Brenkle, St. Helena Catholic Church: "So I know exactly what his pay scale is."
And Monsignor Brenkle says the Pelosis pay a $1.25 an hour more than workers at Napa's biggest union winery.
Monsignor John Brenkle: "I don't think she has the possibility of finding other union workers here in the valley."
Of the more than 300 vineyards, fewer than four are union, and most of the farm workers in the Napa Valley get paid better. St. Helena is a town rich with wine and the money that it has generated. [KGO-TV, 11/28/06]
FACT: It Would Be Illegal For Pelosi To Ask The Union For A Contract. From KGO:
But all of that aside, if Nancy Pelosi wanted to have union workers she could not ask the union for a contract. It's illegal and has been since 1975.
A spokesman for the United Farm Workers Union explains.
Marc Grossman, United Farm Workers Union: "It is patently illegal for any grower to even discuss a union contract, which is the only way you can supply union workers, without the workers first having voted in a state conducted secret ballot election."
The 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act is pretty clear, what Peter Schweizer suggests would be illegal. Growers like Pelosi can't just hire workers from a union, but workers can unionize on their own and then negotiate with growers after they have organized. [KGO-TV, 11/28/06]
Schweizer Told A Reporter It Wasn't His Responsibility To Check The Facts. From KGO:
I asked Peter Schweizer, the Hoover Research fellow, if he had researched those facts before he called Pelosi a hypocrite.
Peter Schweizer: "It's really for her to explain why there is this inconsistency. It's not my responsibility to go and find out how every single particular circumstance is handled on the Pelosi vineyard." [KGO-TV, 11/28/06]
Schweizer Attacked Al Gore For "Large Stock Holdings" In Occidental Petroleum... From Schweizer's 2006 USA Today op-ed:
Graciously, Gore tells consumers how to change their lives to curb their carbon-gobbling ways: Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, use a clothesline, drive a hybrid, use renewable energy, dramatically cut back on consumption. Better still, responsible global citizens can follow Gore's example, because, as he readily points out in his speeches, he lives a "carbon-neutral lifestyle." But if Al Gore is the world's role model for ecology, the planet is doomed.
Gore has held these apocalyptic views about the environment for some time. So why, then, didn't Gore dump his family's large stock holdings in Occidental (Oxy) Petroleum? As executor of his family's trust, over the years Gore has controlled hundreds of thousands of dollars in Oxy stock. Oxy has been mired in controversy over oil drilling in ecologically sensitive areas.
Living carbon-neutral apparently doesn't mean living oil-stock free. [USA Today, 8/9/06]
... But Gore's Spokesperson Says He Sold The Stock As Executor Of Father's Estate Almost Six Years Before. From a letter to the editor from Gore communications director Kalee Kreider:
The assertion by author Peter Schweizer that the Gores were swimming in Occidental stock is also off base. At Mr. Gore's request, all of his father's stock in Occidental (Oxy) Petroleum was sold almost six years ago as the estate was closed. So, although Mr. Gore has and will continue to call on his fellow Americans to do their part to combat global warming, he isn't asking of them what he isn't willing to do himself. [USA Today, 8/16/06]
Schweizer Accused Gore Of Not "Giving Up A Mining Royalty"... From Schweizer's USA Today op-ed:
Living carbon-neutral apparently doesn't mean living oil-stock free. Nor does it necessarily mean giving up a mining royalty either.
Humanity might be "sitting on a ticking time bomb," but Gore's home in Carthage is sitting on a zinc mine. Gore receives $20,000 a year in royalties from Pasminco Zinc, which operates a zinc concession on his property. Tennessee has cited the company for adding large quantities of barium, iron and zinc to the nearby Caney Fork River. [USA Today, 8/9/06]
...But Gore Gave Up The Royalty Three Years Earlier When The Mine Was Closed. The correction appended to Schweizer's USA Today op-ed reads:
Correction: In this column that appeared Aug. 10 on the Forum Page, writer Peter Schweizer inaccurately stated that former vice president Al Gore receives royalties from a zinc mine on his property in Tennessee despite his environmental advocacy. He no longer does, as the mine was closed in 2003. [USA Today, 8/16/06]
Book Claims Philosophy that Led To Financial Meltdown "Begins In The 60's With Saul Alinsky." From the description at PeterSchweizer.com of his book, Architects of Ruin: How Big Government Liberals Wrecked The Economy -- And How They Will Do It Again If No One Stops Them:
Was the financial collapse caused by free-market capitalism and deregulation run amok, as liberals claim?
Not on your life, says Peter Schweizer. What we are really witnessing is a massive failure of social engineering by liberals.
In Architects of Ruin, bestselling author Peter Schweizer describes in riveting detail how a coalition of left-wing activists, liberal politicians, and "do-good capitalists" on Wall Street leveraged government power to achieve their goal of broadening homeownership among minorities and the poor. The results were not only devastating to the economy, but hurt the very people they were supposedly trying to help.
The story begins in the 1960s with Saul Alinsky, the legendary Chicago rabble-rouser who trained his acolytes in highly aggressive techniques of community activism. Alinsky's disciples -- along with race-baiting activists like Jesse Jackson -- seized on the "redlining" controversy of those years to argue that banks were guilty of racial discrimination. In the 1970s, with the help of liberal senators like Ted Kennedy and William Proxmire, legislation was passed that put bankers under the thumb of local activists.
In the Clinton years, a new generation of liberal technocrats came to power in Washington and on Wall Street. Schweizer describes how a powerful phalanx of elite liberals, including Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, Andrew Cuomo, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Janet Reno, Deval Patrick, Henry Cisneros, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer, and many others, aggressively pushed banks to make trillions of dollars in loans to individuals who should never have received them. [PeterSchweizer.com, accessed 11/13/11]
WSJ: "Congress And The White House Are Taking Aim At Controversial Credit-Card Practices." In April 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported:
Congress and the White House are taking aim at controversial credit-card practices, from higher interest rates on past balances to fees for paying by phone or online.
In a bid to aid consumers hit hard by the recession, lawmakers are pushing legislation this week that would ban a long list of credit-card practices that essentially amount to higher costs for consumers. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has scheduled a meeting with executives from credit-card issuers at the White House on Thursday, adding to pressure on the industry. President Barack Obama plans to attend.
Consumer groups have been pushing lawmakers to act, saying cardholders need relief now. The current rules "give very little help to families that are struggling with their debt," said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.
"I don't think the issuers should wait for these rules to come out to start dealing fairly with consumers," she said. "The issue that's hurting consumers the most right now are these big retroactive rate increases. They could just stop doing those tomorrow."
But the industry is warning that some of the efforts -- including speeding up implementation -- would paralyze issuers and force them to raise interest rates, cut credit lines and cancel accounts, hurting consumers who need credit. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/23/09]
McClatchy: "Consumers ... Would Get Strong New Protection" Under Credit Cardholders' Bill Of Rights. McClatchy reported in May 2009:
Consumers jolted by sharp, sudden interest rate increases on their credit cards would get strong new protection from such surprises under legislation that appears headed for Senate passage later this week.
The House passed its own "Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights" last month with strong bipartisan support -- and a strong push from President Barack Obama, who plans to discuss the issue at an Albuquerque, N.M., town hall meeting later this week.
Many banking industry officials are concerned about the legislation. [McClatchy, 5/12/09]
AP: "Congress Wrapped Up The Legislation Wednesday And Sent It To President Barack Obama, Who Plans To Sign It Friday." The Associated Press reported on May 20, 2009, that Congress finalized legislation, including the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights:
Congress wrapped up the legislation today and sent it to President Barack Obama, who plans to sign it on Friday. The bill will revolutionize the market by restricting when and how a card company can raise an individual's interest rate, who can receive a card and how much time people are given to pay their bill. [Associated Press, 5/20/09]
Financial Industry Consultant: "A Deep Recession Is An Odd Time To Assault The Credit Card Industry And Americans' Access To Revolving Credit." Eric Grover, a financial industry consultant, opposed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights in an American Banker column, writing:
A deep recession is an odd time to assault the credit card industry and Americans' access to revolving credit. If not for the ideological animus toward and distrust of credit card firms and private enterprise more broadly, it would not be happening. [American Banker, 3/20/09, accessed via Nexis]
American Bankers Association Lobbied Against Credit Cardholders' Bill Of Rights. In a letter to lawmakers, the American Bankers Association complained that the bill would "limit a lender's ability to manage risk, price fees, allocate payments, and otherwise prudently conduct business." The letter concluded:
For the above reasons, we oppose H.R. 627 as it is currently constituted, and urge opposition to amendments that will further harm our ability to meet the credit needs of consumers and others. [American Banker Association Executive Vice President Floyd Stoner's letter to Congress, via Consumerist.com, 5/13/09]
Financial Services Roundtable Lobbied Against The Bill Of Rights. The Financial Services Roundtable established a "Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights PR Toolkit" to help members lobby against the legislation. [Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights PR Toolkit, via The Financial Services Roundtable, accessed 11/3/11]
ABC News: "Consumer Advocates Hail" Credit Card Holders' Bill Of Rights. In May 2009, ABC News reported that Congress was "nearing completion of a bill that would place tough new restrictions on credit card companies and protect card holders from arbitrary rate hikes and other deceptive practices." ABC further reported:
Consumer advocates are hailing the bill of rights as a huge step for individuals over companies.
"Why is credit card debt different than any other form of debt? Credit card companies have given themselves the right to change any interest rate or fee at any time for any reason," said Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America.
Plunkett said more Americans have credit cards than have mortgages or car loans, so this legislation will reach deep into society.
Banks and the credit industry oppose the new regulation, arguing that additional rules will force them to cut down on the availability of credit and raise rates for the people who make their all their payments on time.
But Plunkett said rates are already up and credit is already hard to come by.
"That's happening now and there's no regulation," he said, arguing that smart regulation could actually improve the industry. [ABC News, 5/13/09]
Consumer Advocates Hailed The Bill Of Rights For Going "A Long Way In Reforming The Credit Industry." According to PolitiFact:
In large part, the law fulfills Obama's campaign pledge: It prevents creditors from imposing arbitrary rate increases on customers, it prohibits most rate increases meant to penalize consumers for late payments on unrelated accounts, and it requires companies to post credit agreements on the Internet, among other things.
The bill falls short when it comes to a prohibition of interest on the fees card companies charge consumers if they go over their credit limit or fail to pay their bills on time. But this omission is not considered significant by consumer advocates. They say the measure goes a long way in reforming the credit industry. For example, most people pay more than their minimum payment every month. That extra cash will now go toward paying down card balances associated with the line of credit, said Lauren Saunders who works for the National Consumer Law Center.
Another example: The new law prevents companies from raising interest rates on existing balances unless the bill goes unpaid for more than 60 days.
"That's a big win," said Ed Mierzwinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups. "It gets rid of any 'gotcha' tricks." [PolitiFact, 5/22/09]
Center for Responsible Lending President: Supporting The Bill Of Rights Was "A Vote On The Side Of Hardworking American Families." From a statement by Michael Calhour, president of the Center for Responsible Lending:
We applaud President Obama and congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for their leadership in swiftly enacting new law to clean up abusive credit card industry practices. The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in Congress to pass the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights was a vote on the side of hardworking American families. Today, with the President's signing the bill into law, the White House and Congress have blown the whistle on practices that for too long have tricked and trapped people into debt.
The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights arrives just in time. If deceptive credit card activities continued unchecked -- as happened with subprime mortgages -- the results would be even more devastating for borrowers and an economy already struggling to avoid financial ruin. This landmark legislation strengthens Federal Reserve rules set out last year and, equally important, ushers them in months sooner.
Sound lending practices, as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Bernanke often points out, are essential to a sound economy. This legislation will usher in rules to help ensure borrowers are treated fairly. That will make it more likely families and small businesses can repay their debt. And that will improve the marketplace and everyone's financial future.
The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights is a victory for fair play and a step towards financial recovery. [Center for Responsible Lending, 5/22/09]
NY Times: Credit Cardholders' Bill Of Rights Was "A Better Way To Help Consumers." In an editorial endorsing Congressional efforts under Pelosi to enact a Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, The New York Times opined:
After complaints from cardholders who felt tricked by their banks, the Federal Reserve last year proposed several useful changes that will not, unfortunately, take effect until July 2010.
There's a better way to help consumers. A credit card bill of rights proposed by Democratic Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Carolyn Maloney of New York would codify many of the Fed's rules into law. It would ban interest rate increases on existing balances unless payment is more than 30 days late, and it would forbid ''double-cycle billing,'' which means charging interest on debts paid off the previous month.
It would also require 45 days' notice for a rate increase in most cases. An even stronger bill by Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut would make it harder for people under the age of 21 to get cards, far too many of whom now think plastic is simply another form of cash. It would also require creditors to apply a cardholder's payment to the balance with the highest interest rate. So far, these reforms face fierce Republican opposition, especially in the Senate. [The New York Times, 4/25/09]
Politico: The Pelosis' Holdings "Likely Would Not Have Been Seen As Significant," Profits "Not A Lot Of Money" For Her. From a November 3 Politico story on the upcoming 60 Minutes report:
Pelosi's financial disclosure reports show that Pelosi's husband has held the bulk of the Visa stock, selling off a small portion worth between $15,000 to $50,000 in late Nov. 2008. That sale yielded a capital gain of between $2,500 and $5,000. The Pelosis' Visa holdings have paid the couple between $12,500 and $35,000 in dividends. For a woman worth a reported $40 million, that's not a lot of money.
Under House rules, lawmakers are prohibited from using their official position "for personal gain." This ban includes instances when a lawmaker uses "his political influence, the influence of his position ... to make pecuniary gains" or take any other official action that affects their own personal finances, the House Ethics Manual states.
There is no precedent for the allegation that Pelosi, as speaker, would have blocked legislation from coming to the House floor.
In addition, the House Ethics Committee notes that "ownership in a publicly traded company generally will not present a conflict of interest requiring recusal from voting" on legislation affecting that company. In that instance, lawmakers are treated as part of a "class" of investors rather than as individuals and are allowed to vote.
The Pelosi's holdings in Visa stock would likely not have been seen as significant in a company with hundreds of millions of shares outstanding. [Politico, 11/3/11]