with Brent D. Griffiths

Fight Corporate Monopolies, a liberal political action committee, officially launched just over a month ago.

But the group of operatives with ties to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has already claimed its first upset victory: It helped topple Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Financial Services housing subcommittee, in his Tuesday primary against 44-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush.

The organization spent $90,000 on an ad portraying Clay as siding with big banks over then-President Obama against the fiduciary rule, the obscure-outside-the-Beltway requirement that financial advisers give retirement savers advice free of conflicts of interest. (Watch the spot above or here.)

And now the PAC is aiming to repeat the coup against an even more powerful figure. It is targeting House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) by once again highlighting an incumbent Democrat’s Wall Street backers. The group has spent $300,000 on a pair of ads tying Neal to the Blackstone Group, his top source of contributions.

Neal’s Sept. 1 race, against Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, is emerging as the next major test for insurgent liberals. In anticipation of a potential Democratic sweep in November, they are working to pull the party’s ideological center of gravity to the left, first by replacing business-friendly lawmakers and regulators with like-minded newcomers, then pressing them to embrace an agenda that fundamentally overhauls Washington’s relationship with industry.

Left-wing advocates are on a hot streak lately. 

In her win over Clay, Bush became “the fifth left-wing Democrat to oust an incumbent member of Congress from her party since the start of Trump’s presidency — including three this year,” Paul Kane and Dave Weigel note.

Also Tuesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a member of the four-woman “Squad” of liberals elected in 2018, dispatched a more moderate challenger in her own primary. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the highest-profile member of that group, routed former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera in a June matchup that drew big-dollar contributions from a who’s who of Wall Street titans.

“The insurgents and establishment figures disagree over the impact of these races, some dismissing the anti-establishment wins as unique to each campaign,” Paul and Dave write. “But both sides agree that this movement feeds off victories, boosting fundraising for a slew of relatively new liberal PACs, and that losses would have starved them of political oxygen.”

Jason Rosenstock, a financial services lobbyist with Thorn Run Partners, says his clients are busy gaming out not only the implications of different election outcomes but also the effect the newly assertive left could have on the direction of the Democratic Party. “The financial services industry is perpetually going to be attacked by the far left,” he says. “The question is, ‘How far does that bleed into the general ethos of the Democratic Party?’”

Liberal activists hope to redeem political victories for legislative ones.

In the case of Fight Corporate Monopolies, its sister organization, the American Economic Liberties Project, is laying the groundwork for an antitrust lobbying offensive. It will push Democratic lawmakers and regulators to break up big businesses the group argues are distorting markets while hurting workers and consumers “in sectors from contact lenses to cat food.”

“There’s a huge list of things we need to do to dig ourselves out of 40 years of deferring to monopolies,” Sarah Miller, executive director of the project and a leader of Fight Corporate Monopolies, tells me.

Miller, a former Obama Treasury Department aide, says the concentration of corporate power has been “supercharged by the pandemic. We’re seeing the largest corporations make out like bandits and get all the support they could ask for, while support for families is time-limited and insufficient to provide stability and security.”

The American Economic Liberties Project is laying out an agenda, shared here for the first time, that calls for a “holistic reorientation of government’s relationship to private power.” While acknowledging there is “no one-size-fits-all solution,” it recommends a number of steps, including:

  • creating a public bank along the lines of the Depression-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation to help pandemic-ravaged businesses go through quick reorganizations;
  • adopting Warren’s proposal to remake the private equity business model by making firms responsible for the employee pensions and debt obligations of the companies they buy;
  • providing for more muscular antitrust enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission;
  • directing Congress to conduct a “thorough study of market concentration in the U.S.";
  • and assessing the Federal Reserve’s role in inequality while diversifying the central bank's leadership.
The group aims to tell a story about how little decisions in Washington can have big consequences. 

Antitrust advocates got a boost from the headline-grabbing House Judiciary Committee hearing last week featuring the chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook. Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who presided over the hearing as chairman of the panel’s antitrust subcommittee, concluded it by declaring it had “made one fact clear to me: These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up.”

Miller argues the effort needs to go beyond Big Tech. Financial interests have figured prominently in the ads Fight Corporate Monopolies has funded so far because “as regulators and policymakers have stepped back from structuring markets, Wall Street has stepped into that role … Wall Street is the entity that’s shaping the structure of commerce in America, and part of our overall goal is to make sure policymakers perform that role and perform it well.”

The ads share a theme, seeking to connect little-noticed moves by lawmakers that earn them corporate favor with outcomes the group argues hurt their own voters.

In one of the ads targeting Neal, the group accuses the House’s top tax writer of doing the Blackstone Group’s bidding by blocking an effort to stop surprise medical billing, a profit generator for the private equity giant’s hospital holdings. “Corporate power is corrupting democracy, and Richie Neal is part of the problem,” the ad’s narrator says.

Neal campaign spokeswoman Kate Norton called it a false attack. “The inconvenient truth for this dark money group is that the surprise billing measure they support would actually HURT hospitals and workers in Western and Central Mass, so Richie proposed his own bill,” Norton said in a statement. “And it’s ironic that Alex Morse has built his entire campaign message about outside money while this is the first attack ad out the gate. It’s another hypocritical move that Morse hopes no one will notice, but if he was standing in his principles he would denounce ads like this.” Blackstone didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Faiz Shakir — Sanders’s former campaign manager, an outside consultant to Fight Corporate Monopolies, and Miller’s husband — says the group is funded by donors and institutions that share its agenda but declined to name them.

Latest on the federal pandemic response

Trump renews threat of executive action as an agreement remains elusive.

The president is taking more concrete steps toward a legally questionable outcome: “Trump threatened to take executive action to extend an eviction moratorium, suspend collection of the payroll tax and boost unemployment benefits unless a coronavirus relief deal can be reached quickly with Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Erica Werner, Karoun Demirjian and Jeff Stein report.

"And in a sign the White House could be preparing to act, the Trump administration has asked federal agencies to identify all of the money they have not yet spent from the $2 trillion Cares Act, which passed in March … White House officials are trying to determine whether this money could be redirected and used for other purposes, such as temporary unemployment benefits or the eviction moratorium.

  • White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has set a Friday deadline: Meadows said further negotiation would be pointless if a deal doesn't happen by then. “But Democrats insisted they wanted to keep negotiating until they could reach agreement on an overall relief bill.”
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed the prospect of administrative action: She said “that Trump might be able to extend the moratorium on evictions — which expired last month — on his own, but she argued that would be of limited use without money attached. Democrats are pushing for rental assistance and housing assistance as part of the talks."
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing some rare blowback: “I want to get an outcome,” McConnell told Politico yesterday. “And I think the best way to get an outcome and to maximize the potential on our side — and we are divided on this — is to make sure everybody knows what’s going on.

Where talks stand: Trump administration officials proposed reducing the figure to $400 weekly through early December,” my colleagues report of movement on the $600 in weekly enhanced unemployment payments. But Democrats so far aren't budging from their demand to extend the benefit at its current level. Negotiators are set to meet again at 5 p.m. tonight.

  • There's also some movement on state aid: “Democrats are seeking about $1 trillion in new aid for states and localities that have laid off more than 1 million workers since February … Trump repeated his argument that Democrats want a ‘bailout’ of poorly managed states. The Trump administration is now offering $150 billion in state and local aid  … Republicans are also arguing that other money — such as the $105 billion they support for schools — should qualify as state aid, an argument Democrats reject.”
Economists say the lapse in extra employment benefits is hurting the recovery.

Payments ended last Friday: Many economists expect last week’s expiration of $600 in enhanced weekly unemployment benefits to lead to a sharp drop-off in household spending and a setback for the U.S. economy’s near-term recovery, even if the lapse turns out to be temporary,” the Wall Street Journal's Kate Davidson reports.

“The average unemployed worker in the U.S. earns a little more than $300 a week on traditional jobless benefits. That isn’t enough for many people to keep up with routine bills, [Trevon Logan, an economics professor at Ohio State University]. Missing those payments could trigger evictions, fines and late fees—costs that consumers will try to avoid by pulling back on other kinds of spending, he said.”

Coronavirus fallout

New jobs data on deck as Fed policymakers say pickup in infections is slowing recovery.

The economy was growing in May and June: But growth stalled in July as infections spiked in some parts of the country, leading to fresh restrictions, U.S. central bankers said,” Reuters's Jonnelle Marte reports. “The increase in infections has raised the downside risks to the economic outlook and suggests the reopening of the U.S. economy may be more protracted than many initially anticipated, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester said in a speech for the Liberal Arts Macroeconomics Conference.”

And Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan told CNN, “The issue with the resurgence in the virus is it slowed down or somewhat muted the recovery we’ve been expecting."

  •  Hiring slowed dramatically in July: Businesses added only 167,000 workers to their private payrolls, a steep drop from analysts’ expectations. “The numbers reported by ADP mark a significant departure from the more than 1 million jobs that some economists had predicted and a sharp falloff from hiring gains reported just a month prior, suggesting almost no sector of the U.S. economy has been untouched by the apparent new slowdown,” Tony Romm reports.
  • New weekly jobless claims, out at 8:30 a.m. this morning, are expected to show 1.4 million filers, per Bloomberg's consensus estimate. That would mark a negligible decline from the prior week. 
  • The numbers have remained stubbornly high since late June. “That halted what had been a swift decline from a peak of 6.9 million in late March, when the pandemic and business closures shut down parts of the U.S. economy,” the Wall Street Journal's Eric Morath reports. The level recorded in recent weeks remains well above the highest on record before this year, which was 695,000 in 1982."
  • July jobs report out Friday will shed more light. “Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast the report to show 1.5 million jobs were added last month and the unemployment rate fell to 10.6% from 11.1% in June,” Morath writes. “While those would be historically strong gains, they would also be a marked slowdown from the pace of the prior two months with unemployment still well above pre-pandemic levels.”
More from the U.S.:
  • There's a drop in cases, but there could be other factors behind it: “The United States reported close to 52,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, as the average number of infections being detected each day continues to trend downward. But that drop has been driven by steep declines in Florida, where Hurricane Isaias shut down dozens of testing sites, and California, where officials said technical problems with the state’s reporting system were leading to an inaccurate tally,” Antonia Noori Farzan reports.
  • Housing, auto demand continue to remain strong: “Sales of new homes in June ran at their fastest pace in nearly 13 years … While the motor-vehicle industry still isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels, the pace of car and light-truck purchases accelerated a third straight month to an annualized pace of 14.5 million in July, exceeding economists’ estimates,” Bloomberg News's Vince Golle and Maeve Sheehey reports.
  • Republican senators push more help for airlines. David Shepardson of Reuters reports: “A group of Senate Republicans on Wednesday backed extending a $25 billion payroll assistance program for U.S. airlines after warnings that carriers may be forced to cut tens of thousands of jobs without government action, according to a letter seen by Reuters.”
  • NCAA leaves divisions in control of championships: The governing body of college sports set specific guidelines for this fall, but punted decisions on whether or not to hold championships to each of its three divisions. Shortly after their announcement, Division II and III canceled their fall championships and stated they would not be made up. NCAA President Mark Emmert said the decision on whether or not to play college football made come down to individual schools instead of the powerful conferences, the Associated Press's Ralph D. Russo reports.
More from the corporate front:
  • Boeing does not see immediate need to raise cash: “Despite the pandemic decimating air travel, adding to the fallout from a 16-month-old crisis over the 737 MAX grounding after fatal crashes, [CFO Greg] Smith said the U.S. planemaker was still focused on future investments including new jet development,” Reuters's  Eric M. Johnson reports.
  • CVS says test delays are abating: “The drugstore giant, the biggest retail chain conducting covid-19 tests in the U.S., said it temporarily reduced the amount of new tests it administered while adding additional labs to process backlogged results,” WSJ's Sharon Terlep reports. CVS “also disclosed financial results for the latest quarter, saying that profits in its insurance business were bolstered as Americans held off on elective procedures and regular health care amid the pandemic.”
  • J.C. Penney lenders seek higher bids: “The lenders are pushing for offers closer to the approximately $2.2 billion of J.C. Penney’s debt they hold,” Bloomberg News's Eliza Ronalds-Hannon and Lauren Coleman-Lochner report. “Earlier proposals from mall owners and retail firms added up to payments of about $1.8 billion.”
  • Struggling manufacturers pivot to making masks: Companies are stitching them on repurposed manufacturing lines in New England and 3-D-printing them at workshops in California. Hundreds of Etsy entrepreneurs have stopped sewing bags and table linens and switched to full-time mask production,” Jeanne Whalen reports.

Trump tracker

Manhattan prosecutors subpoenaed Trump's bank.

The demands for documents from Deutsche Bank suggests Trump faces a wider probe: “The New York prosecutors who are seeking [Trump’s] tax records have also subpoenaed his longtime lender, a sign that their criminal investigation into [Trump’s] business practices is more wide-ranging than previously known,” the New York Times's David Enrich, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser report.

“The Manhattan district attorney’s office issued the subpoena last year to Deutsche Bank, which has been Trump’s primary lender since the late 1990s, seeking financial records that he and his company provided to the bank … The subpoena from the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., appears to be the first instance of a criminal inquiry involving Trump and his dealings with the German bank, which lent him and his company more than $2 billion over the past two decades.” The bank complied with the subpoena.

Market movers

Disney's earnings boost Wall Street. 

Traders were slightly optimistic after the Magic Kingdom's report: “Walt Disney Co’s shares jumped 8.80 percent, to put it among the biggest boosts to the S&P 500 and Dow. The stock notched its biggest daily percentage gain since March 24 as revenue declines for Disney parks and media networks were not as bad as feared,” Reuters's Chuck Mikolajczak reports.

“The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 373.05 points, or 1.39 percent, to 27,201.52, the S&P 500 gained 21.26 points, or 0.64 percent, to 3,327.77 and the Nasdaq Composite added 57.23 points, or 0.52 percent to 10,998.40.”

Goldman warns coronavirus vaccine could shake up markets. “The increased probability of an approved vaccine by the end of November is underpriced by equity markets, wrote strategists including Kamakshya Trivedi in a note Wednesday,” Bloomberg's Cormac Mullen reports. “Over the next few months, the ramifications of the U.S. election and the evolution of the virus -- in part as schools reopen -- are also likely to be key drivers of the market, they said.”

Analysts predict gold isn't over the hill yet: “The speed at which gold has broken above $2,000 an ounce has left some in the market fearing a correction, but many analysts predict more gains as the coronavirus crisis spurs investors to buy into bullion’s relative safety,” Reuters's Peter Hobson reports.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire boosts its stake in Bank of America: The conglomerate won “regulatory permission to increase what was already its largest common stock holding other than Apple Inc.,” Reuters's Jonathan Stempel reports. “In a regulatory filing on Tuesday night, Berkshire said it paid $337 million for about 13.6 million Bank of America shares between July 31 and Aug. 4.” It now owns a 11.9 percent stake in the company. 

Money on the Hill

Democrats introduce bill to task Fed with ending racial inequality.

It would the first major change to the central bank's mandate in decades: “Congressional Democrats introduced new legislation on that would make reducing racial inequality in the U.S. economy an official part of the Federal Reserve’s mission,” Heather Long reports.

“The Federal Reserve Racial and Economic Equity Act requires the central bank to take action ‘to minimize and eliminate racial disparities in employment, wages, wealth, and access to affordable credit.’ While the legislation is not expected to pass Congress while Republicans control the Senate, it signals a growing consensus among Democrats that the Fed has played a role in deepening inequality and needs to be part of the solution to close gaps in employment and pay.”

  • “The legislation was written by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee. Warren and Gillibrand both ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary before dropping out and backing Biden. The bill is co-sponsored by 18 other Democrats, including former presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).”

Campaign 2020

Trump outraised Biden in July.

The president and Republicans broke a two-month losing streak: “[Trump’s] reelection fundraising in July outpaced that of Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden, with a staggering $165 million raised between the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and affiliated committees,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.

“Biden, the Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committees raised $140 million in July, comparable to the amount they raised the month prior … Trump is slated to headline fundraising events in the Hamptons this week, according to CNBC. And Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House senior adviser, appeared at a virtual fundraiser Wednesday that reportedly drew $4 million.”

Out of possible VPs, Susan Rice has the most corporate experience: “Susan Rice is an Oxford-educated foreign policy specialist who—unlike the rest of those believed to be on [Biden’s] running mate shortlist—has never held elected office. But she does have experience in an area most of those in the group don’t: American corporations,” WSJ's John McCormick reports.

“The former national security adviser and United Nations ambassador for President Obama is a member of the board of directors at Netflix Inc. and, earlier in her career, worked at McKinsey & Co. in Toronto."

Pocket change

Instagram's new copycat video tool ups the pressure on TikTok.

The launch also comes at a curious time for Facebook: “Facebook-owned Instagram released its new service, Reels, in the United States and dozens of other countries Wednesday, adding a tab to the existing app that will let users make and watch short-form videos — just like TikTok,” Rachel Lerman reports.

“Reels’ U.S. launch is timed just a week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress about his company’s allegedly anticompetitive practices, including whether it copies ideas from smaller competitors. Meanwhile, TikTok is facing political fallout, as the Trump administration has put pressure on its parent company, ByteDance, to divest its U.S. assets or face a ban because of national security concerns.”

  • The timing of the launch is coincidental, said Instagram’s product chief Vishal Shah: Just like TikTok, Reels lets users shoot and edit videos, add music and scroll through a feed of others’ clips. The biggest difference seems to be length of video — TikTok allows videos up to 60 seconds, and Instagram caps them at 15 seconds … Shah conceded TikTok had done ‘amazing work’ but said it did not invent the short-form video market.”

State attorneys general blast Facebook's civil rights record: “Nearly two dozen state attorneys general demanded Facebook do more to stop the spread of disinformation, discrimination and hate in an open letter on, the latest volley in a growing campaign targeting the company’s civil rights record,” Elizabeth Dwoskin reports.

“Citing a rise in hate crimes and online harassment, the attorneys general asked Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to step up enforcement of the social media company’s hate speech policies. They also asked the company to allow independent audits of the hateful content on the site and of Facebook’s measures to eliminate it. And they called for the company to improve its responsiveness to victims of hate-filled attacks.”

Blackstone to acquire Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion: “It’s the first acquisition by Blackstone’s largest ever private equity fund. Silver Lake and Singaporean sovereign-wealth fund GIC Pte have been the majority owners since 2016,” Bloomberg News's Heather Perlberg reports.

“New York-based Blackstone is flush with cash as investors continue to bet big on the firm amid the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.”

Goldman Sachs says will double hiring of junior bankers from black colleges by 2025: CEO David Solomon told employees “in a staff email that after setting goals last year to hire more Black and Latino employees, the New York-based firm had the ‘highest representation’ of Black workers and a majority of women in its 2020 analyst class,” CNBC's Hugh Son reports.

“Analysts, typically recent college graduates, are on the lowest rung of Wall Street’s hierarchy. Associates are one level up, followed by vice presidents and managing directors. The Wall Street model is to hire thousands of entry level workers every year to create a pipeline of talent.”

Daybook

Today:

  • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims
  • T-Mobile US, Toyota Motor, Norwegian Cruise Line, ViacomCBS, Papa John's International, Post Holdings, Re/Max Holdings, News Corp, Dropbox and Yelp are among the notable companies reporting their earnings

Friday:

  • The Labor Department releases July's jobs report

The funnies

Bull session