Why Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches don’t matter

Hillary Clinton
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Hillary Clinton

This commentary originally appeared on The Hill.

That great sucking sound you heard after the release by WikiLeaks of excerpts of some Hillary Clinton speeches to Wall Street is the deflation of the partisan hype that preceded them.

Despite all the hopeful GOP predictions, the excerpts do nothing to show that Clinton was influenced in her stand on financial issues by fees she received from making these speeches.

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Let's look at three examples of public positions Hillary Clinton has taken during the presidential campaign that are tough on Wall Street and contrary to the economic interests of those who paid her speaking fees:

  • The "carried interest" loophole: Every Wall Street firm that paid Clinton speaking fees strongly favors this tax break, which allows them to pay lower than ordinary income tax rates for the gains they make on their investments. Yet it is a fact that Hillary Clinton has consistently and publicly favored closing that loophole during her presidential campaign.
  • Wall Street regulation: The Wall Street groups that paid Clinton those speaking fees were all strongly opposed to — and paid big money to lobbyists to defeat — the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Hillary Clinton supported Dodd-Frank, and the Wall Street audiences knew it then and know it now.
  • Consumer protection: Over the opposition of most of the large Wall Street bank community, Clinton supports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to provide tough regulations and protection for consumers facing banking abuses.

Here is what others have said about Clinton's detailed plans regarding Wall Street reforms and investment banking abuses:

  • The New Yorker wrote: "If you agree with the Democrats that Wall Street should be reformed … Clinton's more comprehensive solution better grasps the world of finance today."
  • Vox's Matt Yglesias wrote: "Hillary Clinton has often stood accused of pandering or shaping policy proposals for political purposes, but her proposals for improving regulation of the financial system show her doing exactly the opposite — tackling the issue of mega-bank risk in a thoughtful way that is likely to prove politically thankless."
  • Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee: "The things she does will contribute to safety and soundness, will make Wall Street more trustable by the public. All the things that we need out of Wall Street, it does."
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: "Having studied all the Wall Street reform proposals, I firmly believe Hillary Clinton has put forward the toughest, farthest-reaching plan of anyone running for President. She would not only go beyond Dodd-Frank to ensure the needed authority exists to break up or downsize banks that are too large, but she also imposes new constraints on activities in the shadow banking sector, which is too often overlooked. Hillary Clinton's plan confronts risk-taking wherever it occurs, from investment and commercial banks to insurance firms to hedge funds. Her plan goes the farthest to crack down on the true causes of the last financial crisis, and to prevent the next one."

When it comes to Clinton acknowledging that sometimes politicians have to take "a public and a private position," my response is, so what? To get legislation passed, you need private compromises outside of the glare of public speeches and posturing. That is exactly what President Lincoln himself was forced to do, including private deals and quid pro quos, in order to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. We need more of private, bipartisan negotiating to break the gridlock in Washington, not less.

As The Washington Post editorial board wrote recently: "The fact that Mrs. Clinton's eminently reasonable and open-minded words regarding the issues and her opponents are being treated as scandalous is the real scandal."

I get the point that people are uncomfortable with private speeches with large fees paid to former public officials. But facts are facts: Hillary Clinton took the fees and stuck to her convictions.

Commentary by Lanny Davis, co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and is a regular columnist for The Hill newspaper. He has been a friend of Hillary Clinton since they were students at Yale Law School together in 1969-70. Follow him on Twitter @lannydavis.

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