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Where the Democratic presidential candidates stand on financial issues

WASHINGTON — It is still too early in the Democratic presidential primaries to gauge how much attention the candidates will give to financial services issues. But critical comments toward Wall Street by some of the candidates in the first series of debates last month point to an unfriendly political environment for the financial industry in the nominating process.

The debates highlighted the candidates’ general support for consumers over corporate interests in multiple industries.

“That was the message over and over,” Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, said in a note last week. “Candidates argued against big pharma, big tech, Wall Street, and other corporate interests. It seemed like each candidate has a plan on how he or she will tilt Washington away from business and to the average person.”

Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading, added in a note that banks may not be a specific target for the candidates, but will likely play a role in the discussions about economic inequality in general.

“We continue to believe that financial services is a secondary issue in the Democratic presidential race at this point, which suggests that topics of consequence for that segment of the market will be referenced primarily through the broader lens of economic inequality,” Boltansky said.

Here is a sampling of the leading candidates' financial policy views so far.

Former Vice President Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the National Education Association #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum in Houston on July 5, 2019.
On the second night of the Democratic primary debate, former Vice President Joe Biden opened his criticism of President Trump by invoking Wall Street.

“Donald Trump thinks Wall Street built America,” Biden said. “Ordinary middle-class Americans built America.”

Biden is forever linked to the Dodd-Frank Act, the signature financial services legislation of the Obama administration that the banking industry decried as overly burdensome.

But he has also been criticized for his close ties to the credit card industry.

When he was a senator from Delaware, Biden’s single largest contributor was the credit card issuer MBNA Corp., which was later folded into Bank of America. His son, Hunter, was also employed by the firm as a lobbyist.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks during the National Education Association #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum in Houston on July 5, 2019.
Warren is arguably one of Wall Street’s loudest critics in the Democratic primary field. She has used her platform as a member of the Senate Banking Committee to castigate large financial institutions and the Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts.

She first proposed the idea of what became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Early on, she led the design of the agency, which came under fire from congressional Republicans and the banking industry for its strict enforcement regime during the Obama administration.

Warren has also targeted Wells Fargo from her seat on the banking panel. After Wells' phony-accounts scandal came to light in 2016, Warren told then-CEO John Stumpf at a committee hearing that he should resign. She later called on his successor, Timothy Sloan, to leave as well and criticized regulators’ oversight of the bank.

It is hard to imagine the financial industry seeing any regulatory relief under a Warren presidency. She publicly criticized the Democrats who supported S 2155 and she opposed the nomination of Jerome Powell to be chairman of the Federal Reserve because he would not commit to imposing stronger regulations on the banking industry.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign went after Wall Street and made calls to break up the big banks. His 2020 campaign appears to have similar themes.

“Nothing will change unless we have the guts to take on Wall Street, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military industrial complex, and the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders said during the Democratic primary debates last month in Miami. “If we don’t have the guts to take them on, we’ll continue to have plans, we’ll continue to have talk, and the rich will get richer and everybody else will be struggling.”

Earlier this year, the Vermont senator introduced legislation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to cap credit card interest rates at 15%. The bill has been derided by the banking industry.

Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sanders slammed the regulatory relief bill that President Trump signed into law last year.

He also supports a financial transactions tax, enabling the U.S. Postal Service to develop financial services products, auditing the Federal Reserve and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act.
Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. and 2020 presidential candidate, listens during the Poor People's Campaign Forum in Washington on June 17, 2019.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., saw a spike in the polls following her performance in the first debates.

Harris opposed last year's regulatory relief law but has not been particularly active on financial policy issues as a senator.

Her campaign website highlights her work to return money for California homeowners harmed by foreclosure. As the state's attorney general, she played a significant role in negotiating the nationwide $25 billion settlement with large mortgage servicers.

“Kamala achieved landmark results for middle-class Californians, by fighting the Wall Street banks and winning $20 billion for homeowners who were facing foreclosure during the Great Recession,” her campaign website says.

However, Harris has also faced criticism for declining to pursue a civil enforcement action against OneWest Bank, formerly run by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, over allegations of illegal foreclosure practices.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend and 2020 presidential candidate, stands on stage during the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Miami on June 27, 2019.
Unlike many of the members of Congress who are running for president, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg doesn’t have a voting record on financial policy.

But his campaign website highlights his support for consumer protections. His key policy priority would be to overhaul the Federal Arbitration Act to protect consumers' right to seek damages in court rather than be forced into mandatory arbitration.

“When your credit card company rips you off, you should have the right to a day in court with a good lawyer, full rights, and public transparency,” his campaign web page says. “In most cases, though, the company probably forced you to sign away that right. As consumers, we should always have the right to a fair process and strong protections that keep companies honest in the first place.”

Other policies his campaign says he would like to implement are strict regulations on predatory lenders, stronger antitrust standards, reviving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s enforcement authority, fighting big data discrimination, and protecting consumer rights with respect to their personal data.
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke
After losing to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in an unusually tight Senate race in a historically red state, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, announced a bid for the White House. He has said little about the finance industry in his campaign for president, but as a member of the House, he voted against S 2155.

His campaign website calls for doubling the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund from $250 million to $500 million, with resources targeted to aid women and minority entrepreneurs. The banking industry has long supported increases in the CDFI fund.
Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and 2020 presidential candidate, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
Like most of the senators running for president, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., voted against the 2018 reg relief bill.

Although he is not a member of the Senate Banking Committee, he partnered last year with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on legislation to ban overdraft charges on debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals.

The legislation he introduced with Brown would also prohibit banks from charging more than six overdraft fees each year to the same customer.

Yet more than a third of his donations as mayor of Newark came from the financial services sector, which has a significant presence in New Jersey, and he has continued to receive contributions from financial firms as a senator.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks during an Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids on June 9, 2019.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has not been as active in her criticism of the financial services industry as others running for president, but she voted against S 2155 as a member of the Senate, and invoked the industry in her criticism of Republican tax policy.

“Banks are making billions, while workers are losing out,” Klobuchar tweeted in February. “It’s time for a tax policy that puts middle class families first.”

Klobuchar also serves as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights subcommittee, and has frequently called on Congress to do more to take on monopoly power and pursue tougher competition rules.
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the National Education Association #StrongPublicSchools Presidential Forum in Houston on July 5, 2019.
Julian Castro served as the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration. His views on mortgage policy are unclear, but a Castro presidency could push affordable housing initiatives to the forefront of any effort to reform the housing finance system.

On his campaign website, Castro calls for an increased investment of at least $45 billion annually for affordable housing funds financed by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

He also calls for expanding the Housing Voucher Choice Program and creating a renter tax credit.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks during an Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids on June 9, 2019.
At the debates in June, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., highlighted her vote against bailing out the big banks in the wake of the financial crisis.

“I’ve stood up to the banks and voted against the bailout twice,” said Gillibrand, who also voted against S 2155.

But it was reported earlier this year that she had been in contact with Wall Street executives to see if they would support her campaign. After those reports, Gillibrand defended her record of being tough on the big banks.

She tweeted in January that she supports a financial transaction tax, as well as reinstating Glass-Steagall. She was also the lead sponsor of the Postal Banking Act, which would place a retail bank branch in each of the U.S. Postal Service’s 30,000 locations. Banks and credit unions have largely criticized postal banking proposals.