MSNBC’s Chris Hayes just aired an exclusive that provides an interesting look at how some of those being targeted by Occupy Wall Street may really view the protests. He reported that a memo from a prominent corporate lobbying firm to the American Bankers Association proposed an extensive public relations campaign — including opposition research into key movement figures and an elaborate media strategy — designed to discredit the movement, and Dems who embrace it.
The memo was authored by lobbyists at the firm Clark Lytle Geduldig Cranford — and there are two key takeaways. The first is that some allies of Wall Street firms see Occupy Wall Street as a potential long term political threat. The second is that they see the Democratic strategy of embracing the populist message of the protests as something that could work, rather than something that is an automatic negative for Dems, as conservatives keep proclaiming is the case.
From the memo:
Leading Democratic party strategists have begun to openly discuss the benefits of embracing the growing and increasingly organized Occuy Wall Street (OWS) movement to prevent Republican gains in Congress and the White House next year. We have seen this process of adopting extreme positions and movements to increase base voter turnout, including in the 2005-2006 immigration debate. If vilifying the leading companies of this sector is allowed to become an unchallenged centerpiece of a coordinated Democratic campaign, it has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Democratic Party or even President Obama’s reelection team would campaign against Wall Street in this cycle. However the bigger concern should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies — and might start running against them too.
Well-known Wall Street companies stand at the nexus of where OWS protestors and the Tea Party overlap on angered populism. Both the radical left and the radical right are channeling broader frustration about the state of the economy and share a mutual anger over TARP and other perceived bailouts. This combination has the potential to be explosive later in the year when media reports cover the next round of bonuses and contrast it with stories of millions of Americans making do with less this holiday season.
Democratic strategists have identified the OWS movement as a way to tap this populist anger...they are certainly in the field right now testing messaging options and developing the plans to deploy them in ads, speeches, social media and grassroots communications as early as this year. The focus of those campaign efforts would be to tar the financial services sector — and in particular high-profile Wall Street investment house brands — as being responsible for the economic problems facing the country and middle class Americans.
The memo goes on to propose polling to test messages about Occupy Wall Street in a number of states with key Senate races, including Sherrod Brown’s reelection campaign in Ohio and Bob Casey’s in Pennsylvania. It proposes the following response to the movement:
OWS bears many of the hallmarks of a well-funded effort and media reports have speculated about associations with George Soros and others. It will be vital to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way. A key strategic goal will ultimately be to show any evidence of fraud on the other side.
Our opposition research work at this stage will produce an analysis of OWS backers, funders, extremist leaders, policy positions, and rhetoric for the development of strategic polling and messaging. The research will also identify opportunities to construct fact based negative narratives of the OWS for high impact media placement to expose the backers behind this movement.
An American Bankers Association official confirmed the memo’s authenticity to Hayes, and — to the Association’s credit — said it was unsolicited and that the Association “chose not to act on it in any way.” The lobbying firm that authored the memo didn’t answer emails for comment.
Now, this could merely represent a lobbying firm trying to drum up some business. And it’s still unclear whether Occupy Wall Street, in its current form, will ever translate into real reform. But at a minimum, these well connected lobbyists saw this pitch as something that had a chance to be taken seriously by the American Bankers Association. This could also open the door to more reporting on how Wall Street firms really view the meaning and potential of the protests.
Indeed, today’s New York Times has one more data point: The paper reports that Wall Streeters are privately discussing with genuine worry the prospect of Elizabeth Warren ascending to the Senate — and raising big money for Scott Brown in order to stop her.
UPDATE: You can watch video of Hayes’ segment, including more reporting and commentary, right here.