Politics

'Let's make that the law': Elizabeth Warren challenges Jamie Dimon and Business Roundtable over accountable capitalism pledge

Key Points
  • Elizabeth Warren takes J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and the Business Roundtable to task over the association's commitment to "redefine" the purpose of a corporation to extend beyond the maximization of shareholder profits.
  • "If Jamie Dimon thinks it's a good idea for giant corporations like J.P. Morgan Chase to have multiple obligations, he and I agree. Then let's make that the law," Warren tells CNBC's John Harwood.
  • Dimon is chairman of Business Roundtable's board.
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I am proposing something called accountable capitalism: Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren took JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon and the Business Roundtable to task over the association's commitment in August to "redefine" the purpose of a corporation to extend beyond the maximization of shareholder profits.

"If Jamie Dimon thinks it's a good idea for giant corporations like J.P. Morgan Chase to have multiple obligations, he and I agree. Then let's make that the law," Warren said in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood published on Monday. Dimon is chairman of Business Roundtable's board.

Warren, a top contender in the Democratic presidential field, suggested that the business association's move to do away with the notion of "shareholder primacy" was inspired by her proposal to rein in the power of big business.

The Massachusetts Democrat introduced a bill to require the nation's largest companies to consider stakeholders like their customers and employees a year before the Business Roundtable released its statement, signed by 181 CEOs, calling on businesses to do the same.

"You think you caused them to make that decision?" Harwood asked Warren.

"Well, all I'm saying is that's what happened first," Warren said. "There was a lot of conversation about it, and then Jamie Dimon and the heads of some other very large corporations said, 'Oh, we don't need a law. We're just going to make that change voluntarily.'"

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Giant companies should be chartered at the federal level: Elizabeth Warren

The Accountable Capitalism Act would require companies with more than $1 billion in yearly revenue to obtain federal charters from a newly created Office of United States Corporations. It would require 40% of corporation directors to be selected by employees and add new restrictions on stock sales by directors and officers.

Warren said she did not believe voluntary measures will work.

"They'll say they're going to do it on their own, and they may make some adjustments," Warren said. "But understand this: There's a reason you put laws in place. Because the one who doesn't follow voluntarily is the one who then gets a little short-term comparative advantage, gets to boost the share price just a little bit."

"You put in rules so everybody competes on a level playing field," Warren said.

Warren is a longtime consumer advocate and the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a regulator established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Unlike primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who calls himself a democratic socialist, Warren self-identifies as a capitalist but is a strong proponent of effective regulations.

Warren is in third place in national surveys after dropping behind Sanders in the polls last month. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the front-runner.

A spokesperson for the Business Roundtable referred CNBC to a letter sent by the group's CEO, Joshua Bolten, in October, in response to a letter Warren sent to 10 CEOs who signed onto the group's statement redefining the purpose of a corporation.

Bolten highlighted efforts companies were making to voluntarily invest in their communities and pushed back on Warren's accountable capitalism legislation.

"While we share the goal of increasing economic opportunity for all Americans, we believe the Accountable Capitalism Act would not advance that goal and, in many respects, would be counterproductive, hurting the very people we want to help," Bolten wrote at the time.

"Given our diverse economy, business decisions about how best to serve employees and deliver high-quality goods and services to customers require flexibility within the private sector," he wrote. "Creating a new government entity to oversee those decisions would undermine U.S. competitiveness and result in less innovation."

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