In 2015, the Obama administration’s Department of Labor announced new rules for investment advisers. The proposal would curb money managers’ longstanding practice of recommending actions that were more advantageous to themselves than to their client. Obama’s team estimated that savers lost $17 billion each year to such undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Wall Street had been bracing for the DOL’s “fiduciary rule” since 2009, when the White House released a white paper on the issue. As the abstract became concrete, industry PACs opened their wallets.
Congressman William Lacy Clay, Jr., was a primary beneficiary of this new donor urgency.
From 2014 to 2017, retirement advising titan Charles Schwab cut $3,000 of checks to Clay after ignoring him for a decade. Insurance brokers New York Life, Assurant, and State Farm showed up in his FEC filings for the first time, giving Clay a combined $24,500 over the same period.
Other worried firms that had previously bought access to Clay ratcheted up their generosity. He received as much in four years as he had in the previous 14, from donors including JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, AFLAC, Edward Jones, Bank of America and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers.
All told, Clay took in nearly $150,000 from the industry at the height of the fiduciary rule dispute.
Clay then became an important mouthpiece for the industry. When Republican colleagues drafted a letter urging Obama to reconsider his rule, Clay pressed his Democratic colleagues to sign on. Clay's leadership gave the industry's gripes a veneer of bipartisanship. He laundered misleading Wall Street talking points into a plea from Obama’s own allies.
The friction Clay helped create between congressional Democrats and the Obama team slowed progress on the rule. It would take years for the regulation to be finalized.
A watered-down version of the rule had just barely kicked in when the Trump administration took over. Trump’s team made it a priority to kill the rule Clay had criticized. Within two years, the fiduciary rule was dead -- and Clay’s donors could go back to fleecing unwitting clients.
As Clay seeks an 11th term this fall, the same corporate interests are spending big to keep him in Washington. More than half his reported 2020 fundraising comes from the insurance, real estate, finance, pharmaceutical, and telecoms industries.