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US Trade Representative Michael Froman, the groups note, "received a more than $4 million golden parachute from Citigroup upon leaving the large financial institution to join the Obama administration in 2009." (Photo: US Institute of Peace/flickr/cc)

Is US Trade Rep a Wall Street Crony? Groups Demand Transparency.

Public interest watchdogs say Americans deserve to know what US top trade negotiator Michael Froman 'has been privately saying to big banks'

Deirdre Fulton

Noting deep ties between the country's top trade negotiator and Wall Street banks, ten groups representing millions of Americans are calling on the White House to make public all communications between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and the massive financial institutions that stand to benefit from proposed trade deals.

In a letter (pdf) addressed to Froman—lead champion of President Barack Obama's corporate-friendly trade agenda—groups including National People's Action, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and CREDO Action request "the prompt, voluntary, and proactive disclosure of all records of communication between yourself and representatives of the ten largest U.S. financial institutions—including lobbyists, employees, and trade associations—during your tenure as U.S. Trade Representative."

"If the Obama administration gets Fast Track, it would delegate Congress’s constitutional authority to a U.S. Trade Representative who, by background and mindset, responds to Wall Street rather than ordinary people."
—Michelle Chan, Friends of the Earth

Those financial institutions include JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

In particular, the letter's signatories are concerned that provisions in proposed trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) would weaken or rollback existing U.S. financial regulations, for the benefit of big banks.

Critics have warned, for example, that Wall Street lobbyists are pushing to undercut the Dodd-Frank banking reforms through international trade negotiations.

"Citigroup snuck a lobbyist-written Dodd-Frank rollback into last December’s CRomnibus, so we already know they’re willing to hijack unrelated bills to weaken regulations on Wall Street," said Kurt Walters of Rootstrikers. "Wall Street has been lobbying to include financial regulation in ongoing trade negotiations, and Americans deserve to know what Froman has been privately saying to these big banks."

In a press release, the groups highlighted the links between Citigroup—which has lobbied extensively on the TPP, TTIP, and Fast Track authority—and Froman, who they note "received a more than $4 million golden parachute from Citigroup upon leaving the large financial institution to join the Obama administration in 2009."

"It’s no surprise that the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]—an unprecedented corporate giveaway—is being negotiated by someone as cozy with Wall Street banks as Michael Froman," said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director at CREDO Action. "The American people deserve transparency," he added, in order "to see what kinds of commitments Froman is making to his Wall Street cronies behind closed doors."

The letter specifically points to how Fast Track authority, which would provide a means for legislation to be passed under expedited rules by a mere 50-vote simple majority in the Senate, could provide a mechanism for future presidents to use the process  to roll back U.S. financial regulatory policies that would not survive normal Senate voting procedures.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), made a similar point in a May 5 speech to the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Washington, D.C. "In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to give the president Fast Track authority," she said. "If Fast Track passes, a Republican president could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules."

Furthermore, stated Michelle Chan, director of Economic Policy at Friends of the Earth: "If the Obama administration gets Fast Track, it would delegate Congress’s constitutional authority to a U.S. Trade Representative who, by background and mindset, responds to Wall Street rather than ordinary people."

Should Froman's communications demonstrate that he "personally and privately communicated" to Wall Street banks that financial reform rollbacks would "never happen under any circumstances, that would help build trust in the Administration's position," the letter reads.

"On the other hand," it continues, "if your communications with large financial institutions on this issue are somewhere less clear with respect to these regulatory concerns—or if there is anything in your communication that undercuts the Administration’s public position that these concerns are 'baseless'—that is something members of Congress and the American people have a right to know."


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