TPM News

Several House Democrats with close ties to the financial industry, including four members of the conference committee hashing out the final bill, are pushing to weaken the Wall Street reform legislation in the conference committee.

The 68-member New Democrat Coalition has been circulating drafts of a letter outlining their position on financial regulatory reform, proposing to significantly scale back regulations on derivative trading, and open up exceptions to the so-called Volcker rule, which limits financial firms' ability to speculate with their profits.

One draft of that letter, obtained by TPM, can be read here. Their position on derivatives provoked the ire of Americans for Financial Reform, the largest pro-regulation coalition in the country, which responded yesterday with a letter of their own.

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Personal financial disclosure forms from members of Congress, showing assets and other information as of the end of last year, are now available for perusal.

There are lots of fun tidbits. For example, Sen. John Ensign's wife was paid $2,350 in salary by HairArts LLC of Las Vegas. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) got dividends from Pizza Hut (Yum! Brands).

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Gun rights activists are accusing the National Rifle Association of "selling out" to Congressional Democrats over a new measure aimed at requiring more disclosure from corporations getting involved in political races. The NRA was granted an exemption from legislation that would require other groups to disclose top donors, prompting one Virginia group to accuse them of being "bought off" and 45 groups to lodge a formal protest with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democratic leaders cut a deal with the NRA, fearing that, if they didn't, the bill's passage this summer would be doomed by members spooked by the potential backlash from the group, an important source of support for gun-friendly lawmakers.

The NRA now supports the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was written by Democrats in response to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision loosening campaign finance regulations. The bill would require CEOs to stand by their ads and other transparency measures.

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Yesterday, the White House and BP struck a deal for the oil giant to put $20 billion in an escrow account that will be used to pay damage claims resulting from the disastrous Gulf Coast oil leak. But how exactly will the fund work?

It'll be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, the pay czar charged with overseeing top Wall Street salaries under TARP. Feinberg also oversaw the 9/11 victims compensation fund.

As independent claims administrator, Feinberg will implement and adjudicate a claims process that the White House says will be "fairer, faster, and more transparent in paying damage claims by individuals and businesses." The standards for what constitutes a recoverable claim haven't been announced yet -- but the White House says they'll be published at some point.

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In the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing today on the BP oil spill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said something very remarkable: Amidst a committee slamming BP all around, he apologized to the company for the $20 billion escrow account that the Obama administration asked them to create for paying out damages in the case.

"I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown," Barton said.

I'm speaking now totally for myself, I'm not speaking for the Republican Party, I'm not speaking for anybody in the House of Representatives, but myself. But I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday.

I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown, with the Attorney General of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that's unprecedented in our nation's history, that's got not legal standing, and which sets I think a terrible precedent for the future.

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A tea party-leaning Republican candidate in Raleigh, NC has his own theory about what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon's rig on April 20. He's calling for an investigation of his theory, but it might be hard for him to get a proper one one unless the FBI can make Mulder and/or Scully available. You see, according to Bill Randall -- candidate for the Republican nomination in North Carolina's 13th district -- what happened in the Gulf involves a conspiracy between BP and the highest levels of the federal government.

"Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion," Randall told reporters in North Carolina yesterday. "I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company violating a safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak."

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BP is ponying up $20 billion for Gulf Spill oil damages. And quite a few Republicans don't like it one bit.

The Obama administration and BP seem to have come to a solution on paying for damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, with the $20 billion escrow account to pay out damages to claimants. And since everything that a president does will get attacked by opponents, some Republicans have come out strongly against it -- with the sum total of charges being that it will turn into a political slush fund procured through dirty Chicago thug tactics that will be paid out to ACORN.

• Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) vigorously attacked the idea: "The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders, which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund," Bachmann said on Tuesday, also adding that BP should say, "We're not going to be chumps, and we're not going to be fleeced." Bachmann later backtracked on Wednesday, saying that BP should pay for all of the damages involved, but that the fund should not be "an unending pot of money."

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Last night, Stephen Colbert was emphatic that because of the recent discovery of large quantities of minerals in Afghanistan, the U.S. shouldn't leave the region yet. "Afghanistan is about to pay off," he said. "It's like a slot machine we've been warming up for nine years."

Colbert added: "The only other way to get access to that many heavy metals is to buy a Chinese-made baby crib."

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Jon Stewart took a look back at old presidential speeches last night, and realized that the past eight presidents have promised to move the U.S. away from foreign oil toward energy independence. "Fool me once, shame on you," he said. "Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me eight times -- Am I a f--king idiot?"

"F--k it," Stewart decided. "Let's just use oil. You know what? We have to. I will not allow the dinosaurs to have died in vain."

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