Wall Street Potent Target in Presidential Campaign

Survey data show steady erosion in public trust of financial companies

An Occupy Wall Street protester. (Photo: Joyce Hanson) An Occupy Wall Street protester. (Photo: Joyce Hanson)

Was it President Barack Obama or another candidate for the 2012 presidential race who said this? “Wall Street grew to be a source of capital for growing companies. It has become something else: A facilitator for greed and for the selling of American jobs. Enough already.”

While the anti-Wall Street rhetoric sounds more typically like that of a Democrat, it was Republican candidate and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer who made that remark on Wednesday in a statement praising, of all things, the Occupy Wall Street movement that has gathered momentum in protests across the country over the past month.

Another sampling from Roemer’s populist appeal: “It is Main Street that is being foreclosed on; and it is Main Street that is suffering while the greed of Wall Street continues to hurt our middle-class.”

Another candidate, at a news conference on Thursday, had this to day about Occupy Wall Street:

"I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country ... and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place.”

That comment was from Obama, and its anti-financial industry theme is heard now with ever greater frequency. Here’s the president in an ABC news interview on Saturday calling on the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to stop financial institutions like Bank of America from charging a $5 monthly fee for customer use of its debit cards:

“You can stop it because if you say to the banks, ‘You don't have some inherent right just to–you know, get a certain amount of profit. If your customers–are being mistreated. That you have to treat them fairly and transparently.'”

As economic weakness shows little sign of abating, anti-Wall Street sentiment is emerging as a force to be reckoned with whose potency lies in the genuine antipathy Americans have for large financial institutions. A recent Gallup survey of Americans' trust in banks stretching back from 1979 to today shows a deep erosion in consumer confidence from 60% then to just 23% today.

The polling firm says that confidence went into “free fall” beginning in 2006. A survey by Rittenhouse Rankings of “CEO Candor” showed two financial firms–AIG and Bank of America–among the five least trusted of 98 large companies; no financial firm appeared among the 10 most trusted companies.

Candidates seeking more positive associations with business might want to shake voters’ hands at Costco and Loews, two brands that made it onto Rittenhouse’s Top 10 list.

Despite the lack of love from the president, Wall Street donors were among the biggest donors to the 2008 campaign that launched his presidency. Goldman Sachs’ PAC bundled over $1 million for the president, the second biggest of his corporate contributors. JPMorgan, Citigroup, UBS and Morgan Stanley each bundled over $500,000 for Obama.

Those firms’ PACs all bundled campaign contributions for the president’s 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain, though none gave more than $400,000.

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