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Hillary Clinton bashes Wall Street, but only a little

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner on Friday in Cedar Rapids. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Government penalties for corporate wrongdoing should cut into the bonuses paid to executives who should have been accountable, and no one is “too big to jail,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.

During a lengthy question and answer session on Facebook, Clinton entered the political controversy over the protest phrase “black lives matter,” which ensnared her closest competitor for the Democratic nomination over the weekend. She also cracked wise about her love of pantsuits and agreed with a woman questioner that professional women are held to different expectations for physical appearance than men that the questioner called a “hair and makeup tax.”

“Amen, sister,” Clinton responded. As with others in the Facebook back and forth, the message was signed “H,” to signify that she wrote it herself. Clinton’s Facebook page and Twitter account are managed by her campaign.

She managed to plug some campaign merchandise, too.

Striking a note of outrage over Wall Street abuses that is keyed to appeal to liberal voters, Clinton pledged to go beyond current regulations if she is elected president, to prosecute individuals as well as financial firms. Whistleblowers should win higher awards for calling out malfeasance, she said.

“We've all heard the shocking stories of misconduct by individuals and institutions in the financial industry,” Clinton wrote. “And even though some institutions have paid fines and even admitted guilt, too often it seems like the people responsible get off with limited consequences (or none at all). Even when they’ve already pocketed the gains. That's wrong and it has to change.”

Clinton added that she will defend and seek to expand the 5-year-old set of financial industry controls known as Dodd-Frank, and accused Republicans of trying to undo the protection the legislation affords.

Her campaign said the whistleblower proposal refers to a $1.6 million federal cap on individual awards for exposing wrongdoing.

“While this represents a large sum in real dollars, it pales in comparison to pay levels within the financial sector and in comparison to whistleblower rewards offered under comparable anti-fraud statutes,” a campaign press release said. Clinton wants to “sharply” increase the amount that could go to whistleblowers, the campaign said, but there was no mention of a precise figure.

The proposals begin to fill in details of Clinton’s carefully calibrated economic platform. She is trying to place herself as a watchdog against corporate wrongdoing and what her allies claim is a dangerous hands-off approach advanced by Republicans. At the same time she is distancing herself from the Wall Street bashing that is buoying the underdog candidacy of challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

"I pledged to prosecute individuals as well as firms when they commit fraud or other criminal wrongdoing - because no one is 'too big to jail,'" Clinton wrote. "I’ll be laying out my Wall Street agenda in more detail soon."

None of the proposals she has put forward so far appear close to the major crackdown on banking practices, financial loopholes and astronomical salaries favored by many liberals. Clinton is expected to fill in some details in a speech about corporate responsibility this week. Eventually she will have to address issues of income inequality more directly, and to answer liberal demands for a specific proposal to raise then minimum wage.

Clinton’s own longstanding ties to Wall Street, both as a New York senator and two-time Democratic presidential contender, have made her suspect in the eyes of some of the Democratic Party’s most liberal voters. Those voters wield particular influence now, when they can point up the shortcomings of the Democratic front-runner by backing a competitor or withholding support.

Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were interrupted Saturday by protesters demanding to know what they would do about racial injustice. The heckling at the progressive political gathering Netroots Nation highlighted the divide between the vocal support for Sanders on issues surrounding economic opportunity and inequality and the Democrats’ black and Hispanic voter bases.

Clinton skipped the gathering, which draws just the sort of progressive activists she's had trouble winning over, but weighed in on the hecklers’ question in the Facebook exchange.

“Black lives matter,” Clinton wrote. “Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that. We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice in this country, and one of those hard truths is that that racial inequality is not merely a symptom of economic inequality. Black people across America still experience racism every day.”

O’Malley was nearly shouted down at the Netroots event for saying that “all lives matter,” black and otherwise. He also addressed many of the protesters’ concerns, but his choice of words angered many who saw it as dismissive.

Clinton had also been criticized for saying “all lives matter” during a political event in South Carolina last month.