During this time--what I call my "wilderness period"--I was having lunch one day with a liberal coworker when Richard Shelby's name came up. I opined that our U.S. senator, then a Democrat, seemed like an OK guy. My lunch companion reacted as if he had been struck with a red-hot poker.
"Oh God," he said. "Richard Shelby is a reptile!"
Looking back, I'm not sure I've ever personally witnessed truer words being spoken. The latest example of Shelby's reptilian qualities came yesterday when he helped lead a Republican effort to block financial reform.
How big a reptile is Shelby? The progressive issue-advocacy group Americans United for Change (AUC) reports that yesterday's GOP blockade came after Shelby had received $5.3 million in contributions from the financial industry since 1998.
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, here is how much cash Shelby has taken from a few of the heavy hitters in the financial industry:
JP Morgan Chase--$101,321
In 2009 alone, Shelby raked in $806,838 from the financial industry. Tom McMahon, acting executive director for AUC, puts it in stark terms:
Pretending as if the financial crisis never happened, Senator Richard Shelby today stood with Wall Street over Main Streets in Alabama that suffered the consequences of the big banks’ greed and recklessness. Senator Shelby voted against ending taxpayer bailouts, against shining a bright light on the shadowy derivatives markets, and against establishing a new watchdog agency on Wall Street that will protect American consumers against Madoff-style scams.
After taking over $5 million in contributions from the financial industry over the years, it doesn’t look very good that Senator Shelby is now refusing to hold Wall Street accountable for laying waste to the economy and leaving over 8 million Americans without jobs.
Shelby's ties to big finance do not stop with cash contributions. AUC reports that Shelby's former staffers tend to land cushy jobs as lobbyists for the financial industry. These former staffers include:
* Jennifer Bendall, a former political advisor to Sen. Shelby, now works for Eris Group. In 2009, she lobbied on behalf of several companies with a stake in the current financial regulation reform debate. Her clients (and firm fees) include MetLife ($180,000), Morgan Stanley ($120,000), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($20,000).
* Stewart Hall, former legislative director for Sen. Shelby, lobbied in 2009 for Ogilvy Government Relations on behalf of the Carlyle Group ($50,000) and the Community Financial Services Association ($300,000), the trade association for payday lenders
* Lendell Porterfield is a former aide to Sen. Shelby and is currently a principal at Porterfield, Lowenthal, and Fettig. In 2009, Porterfield’s clients (and firm fees) included the American Bankers Association ($120,000), Prudential Financial ($30,000), and the New York Bankers Association ($50,000).
* Philip Rivers, Sen. Shelby’s former chief of staff, is now a lobbyist with Locke Liddell Strategies. In 2009, Rivers’ lobbied on behalf of the American Financial Services Association ($120,000).
Is Richard Shelby carrying the water bucket for financial big hitters? As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha." And McMahon, of AUC, is onto the senator's tactics:
Counting on Republicans to block financial reform was the safest and surest bet Wall Street executives have made in a very long time. But, with two-thirds of American people in support of stricter regulations for banks and other financial institutions, Senator Shelby just made the riskiest gamble of his career. In the face of overwhelming public demand that Wall Street be held accountable for laying waste to our economy, it’s not a question of whether reform is going to pass--it’s a question of how long Republicans like Richard Shelby can run from the pitch forks on Main Street.
What became of my visionary lunch companion? I'm not sure where he is these days; he moved to another state not long after that lunch. But I give him a lot of credit for being far smarter than I was about seeing through snakes like Richard Shelby. I now look back on that lunch as the day the scales started falling from my eyes about modern conservatives.
Do I have regrets about my "wilderness period"? Oh, yes. I'm ashamed to admit I voted for Reagan (twice!) and the first Bush. I'm ashamed that I was too busy trying to build a career to educate myself about what actually was going on in my country.
But here's my biggest regret: I hate that we've given reptiles a bad name by comparing them to Richard Shelby.