Wall Street Fat Cats Are Trying to Pocket Billions in Bailout Cash
The election results pretty much confirmed the extent to which Main Street is rightly livid about the Wall Street mentality that led to our financial crisis. During his historic victory speech, President-elect Barack Obama told supporters, and the rest of the world, "If this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers."
But, it seems that Wall Street didn't get that memo. It turns out that the nine banks about to be getting a total equity capital injection of $125 billion, courtesy of Phase I of The Bailout Plan, had reserved $108 billion during the first nine months of 2008 in order to pay for compensation and bonuses (PDF).
Paying Wall Street bonuses was not supposed to be part of the plan. At least that's how Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson explained it to Congress and the American people. So, on Oct. 1, when the Senate, including Obama, approved the $700 billion bailout package, the illusion was that this would magically loosen the credit markets, and with taxpayer-funded relief, banks would first start lending to each other again, and then, to citizens and small businesses. And all would be well.
That didn't happen. Which is why it's particularly offensive that the no-strings-attached money is going to line the pockets of Wall Street execs. The country's top investment bank (which since Sept. 21 calls itself a bank holding company), Goldman Sachs, set aside $11.4 billion during the first nine months of this year -- slightly more than the firm's $10 billion U.S. government gift -- to cover bonus payments for its 443 senior partners, who are set to make about $5 million each, and other employees.
Whereas Wall Street may not believe in higher taxes for the richest citizens, it does believe in higher bonuses for the head honchos. No matter what the market conditions are on the outside, steadfast feelings of entitlement tend to prevail.
Last year, when the financial crisis was just brewing, the top five investment banks paid themselves $39 billion in compensation and bonuses, up 6 percent over 2006. Goldman's CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, bagged a record bonus of $60.7 million, including $26.8 million in cash. That amount was nearly double the $38 million that Paulson made at the firm in 2005, the year before he became the Treasury secretary, a post for which he received unanimous approval from the Senate on June 28, 2006.
Two of those firms, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, went bankrupt this year. Bank of America is acquiring a third, Merrill Lynch. Shares in the remaining two, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, took a 60 percent nosedive this year.
Yet, that didn't stop their campaign contribution money from spewing out. Goldman was Obama's largest corporate campaign contributor, with $874,207. Also in his top 20 were three other recipients of bailout capital: JP Morgan/Chase, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.
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