Ahead of Thursday's Democratic debate, five liberal groups pushing Wall Street reform challenged candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders to provide a short list of candidates for Cabinet posts and top government jobs involved in policing Wall Street.
Although a joint petition from the groups was sent to both campaigns, it applies most directly to Clinton and appears aimed squarely at her. It puts her on the spot to say she would look almost exclusively outside Wall Street for top government jobs and to select only candidates with strict rubrics for financial reform. The petition does not expressly say that any candidate should be committed to breaking up the biggest banks, as Warren and Sanders say should occur.
Clinton appears unlikely to sign on to such a promise now, and steering clear of Wall Street executives would be a major departure from her past practice and that of her husband, former president Bill Clinton. The petition is also being sent to Republican candidates, none of whom is likely to sign.
"Wall Street influence is a major issue in the 2016 election. One of the most consequential things a president can do is appoint people who have a record of challenging Wall Street power," the petition from Rootstrikers, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Revolving Door Project, Americans For Financial Reform and Public Citizen's Congress Watch reads.
"As Senator Elizabeth Warren says: Personnel is policy. Please give the public some specific examples of people you would consider for key posts that our nation relies on to challenge Wall Street power — including Treasury secretary, attorney general, and SEC chair," the groups wrote. "Please be transparent about some factors you will use when making appointments for these key positions."
All the groups involved have supported Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren's policy proposals for financial regulation, which go farther than Clinton's plan.
The groups plan to use the challenge to highlight stories of hardship in Nevada, which holds its primary Feb. 20 and has been disproportionately hurt by home foreclosures, a leader involved in the campaign said.
The person involved, who requested anonymity to preview the Nevada activity, provided this testimonial from Tarl Michael, a former Las Vegas small-business owner who leans toward Clinton, but wants to see presidential candidates be strong on challenging Wall Street power.
"During the Great Recession, the banks cut my operating capital down to nothing even though I had good credit. Because my mortgage was upside down, I could not get a business loan to continue operating my business," Michael said. "Not only did I lose my home to foreclosure, I also lost my business income and was forced to file bankruptcy. My life has been changed forever because I lost my home and business income. The banks were bailed out with my tax dollars, but they refused to help me and millions of Americans just like me. Wall Street needs to be held accountable, and Wall Street greed needs to be halted."
Clinton has pledged what she calls more comprehensive financial regulation than Sanders, and frequently says that just breaking up the biggest banks, as he proposes, would not have prevented the last economic recession. But Wall Street veterans are among her close advisers and friends, and she has never suggested she would ban anyone with that background from working for her. One of her deputies at the State Department, Tom Nides, was a Wall Street executive before and after his government service, and she named another as head of the State Department's economic affairs bureau.
“We are seeing a rising economic populist tide across the nation. Many issues in the 2016 debate boil down to voters wanting the next president to truly challenge Wall Street power and corporate power," said Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor.
"Personnel is policy — and key to assessing a politician’s seriousness about challenging Wall Street power is who they would appoint to senior positions like treasury secretary, attorney general and SEC chair."