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For Immediate Release

Contact

Patrick Davis, pdavis@citizen.org

Press Release

Reporter Memo: Bank CEO Hearing Highlights GOP Crusade to Stop Critical Public Protections for Climate and Other Financial Risks

WASHINGTON -

This week, the CEOs of the nation’s largest banks will sit down with the respective committees overseeing them in the U.S. House and Senate. The hearings provide a moment for Congress to hear from some of their largest campaign contributors. The seven bankers, who were collectively compensated $145,900,000 last year, gave over $75 million to politicians between 2016 and 2022, according to data compiled ahead of the hearing by Public Citizen.

This excessive CEO compensation for these mega bankers, underscores the need to move on long delayed rules from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act to rein in out-of-control executive compensation that incentivizes risk taking. As a recent Public Citizen report highlighted, numerous cases link compensation to fraud and investor abuse by banks. The outrageous compensation for CEOs coupled with the massive amount of political giving they do, has given them a sense of immunity. And this hubris will be on full display during this hearing. 

Republican efforts to inflame their followers with new forms of climate change denial will also be center stage. Earlier this week, Republican aides on the Senate Banking Committee previewed that the GOP members would use their time with the CEOs to launch diatribes unmoored from facts about their latest euphemism for climate denial: ‘woke-capitalism.’ 

Republican leaders are unleashing threats ahead of this week’s hearings. A GOP staffer told Politico that “Republicans will send a clear warning to these financial institutions: If banks don’t reverse course, they should expect more backlash from Republicans, which could include Republicans seeking to pressure banks to advance their social and political objectives when they’re in power.” 

While Republicans on Capitol Hill lob thinly veiled threats at big banks, who are often only too happy to take risks with their companies to increase their own pay, the pressure campaign to undermine safe investment strategies by financial institutions has already begun in the states. Several Republican state officials are actively punishing financial institutions of all sizes, blacklisting them from doing business with the state government for making prudent financial decisions. The anti-free market move by these states not only puts state worker pensions at risk and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, it demands that financial institutions ignore what will be the most significant factor in the economy for decades to come: a massive economic transformation away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. 

Consumer reports found that 71% of Americans are interested in purchasing an electronic vehicle. Renewables are the fastest growing part of the energy sector. As the economy transitions, what happens to the investments financial institutions make today in fossil fuels? 

Financial institutions are starting to wake up to the grave risks of fossil fuel investments and financing. That’s why, at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, Republicans will use this week’s hearings to push the nation’s largest banks to provide more credit and investment to this volatile sector of the economy than even the banks—no strangers to excessive risk-taking—think is prudent. Congress generally doesn’t bully banks into lending to one industry or another (instead, it’s usually happy to subsidize an industry itself).

Republicans are ignoring several of the realities of the American economy: 

  • U.S. banks are the world’s largest funders of fossil fuels. When they don’t lend, it’s overwhelmingly because they’ve concluded that the loans are too risky;
  • Politicians shouldn’t push banks into taking financial stakes in risky industries and the symbiotic relationship between major corporate donors and their politicians can lead to bad outcomes for protecting the public;
  • Despite a year of record profits, the fossil fuel industry is incredibly risky (remember, a few short years ago, the price of a barrel of crude went negative); and
  • Pushing financial institutions into risky investments puts the entire economy at risk, and CEOs are already inclined to take unnecessary risks due to their compensation packages. Politicians should not pile on.

While the Teflon CEOs of America's largest banks will likely dodge the politically loaded questions from the GOP, the very real questions about how banks will react to stranded investments and systemic economic risks caused by the climate crisis and other “ESG” matters are likely to linger like PFAS.

Public Citizen Expert Availability: 
On Banking CEO Pay and Influence Spending:

  • Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president
  • Rachel Curley, democracy advocate, 
  • Rick Claypool, research director 

On Climate-Related Financial Risk and Regulation:

  • David Arkush, managing director, Climate Program

###

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people – not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

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