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Group demands banks give up bonuses to fill state budget gap
Hundreds of sign-toting members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) stormed the lobbies of two downtown Des Moines banks Tuesday afternoon, temporarily halting business activities to demand the banks give up their employee bonuses to help pare down Iowa’s projected $1 billion budget shortfall.
While customers and bank employees looked on, five busloads of CCI members quietly streamed into the lobby of Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Des Moines, shouting in unison “Bust up big banks” and “Put the people first.”
“I’m just very angry,” said 81-year-old Ferol Wegner of Des Moines, a widow who lost her retirement savings in the financial crisis. “Everyone here has lost money in their 401ks or retirement funds because the banks have devastated our economy, yet the taxpayers paid for the bailouts of these large corporate banks. I’m here to stand up and see that justice is served.”
After a few minutes in the bank lobby, security and Des Moines police asked the protesters to leave, which they did. Wells Fargo officials were not available for comment.
The protesters, who were also joined by members of the Chicago-based National People’s Action, walked across the street and crammed themselves into the small lobby of Bank of America, where they repeated their protests before once again being asked to leave by police.
No arrests were made at either bank.
“The banks know that we are unhappy with what happened with the financial meltdown. They know it’s their fault,” said Mike McCarthy, a CCI member from Des Moines. “They think it’s business as usual. But it’s unjust for them to think they will continue the way they have been in the wake of the country’s financial meltdown. We are here to see that this doesn’t happen again to our children and grandchildren.”
Tuesday’s bank protests were the culmination of CCI’s “Showdown at the Statehouse,” a day-long event in which CCI members called upon elected officials to rein in corporate power and to support campaign finance reform. But the biggest issue of the day was CCI’s message to the banks.
“Big banks, like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, and Wall Street crashed our national economy and our state budgets. They must do their part to fix it,” said Judy Lonning of Des Moines. “We want their bonuses.”
At the heart of CCI’s argument are reports of banks that have received federal government bailout money but are now reporting profits and doling out billions of dollars in bonuses to employees. Last week, it was reported that Wells Fargo in 2009 enjoyed a record-setting $12.3 billion in net income and total revenue of more than $88 billion.
In addition to setting record profits and paying lavish bonuses, CCI claims that big banks are funneling millions of dollars to lobbyists to block meaningful financial reform; increasing consumer fees; failing to modify enough loans to keep families in their homes; and financing payday lenders that “rip off our communities.”
“Wells Fargo and Bank of America are hurting hardworking families,” said CCI member Vern Tigges of Carroll. “Our state budget deficits could be wiped out if the big banks gave their total bonus packages — estimated to be about $140 billion — back to our states. For all intents and purposes, their bonuses are our bonuses because we bailed them out and put them back in working order.”
CCI contends that the $140 billion reported to be paid in bonuses, benefits and compensation by the nation’s six biggest banks — Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley — could nearly fill the $142 billion total budget gap for all 50 states in fiscal year 2010.
In Iowa, budget deficits have resulted in across-the-board cuts that have forced layoffs, employee furloughs and cuts to vital services.
“I think it’s wrong what they’re doing,” said Veronica Guevara, an 18-year-old student at Marshalltown Community College, who works part-time at a community bank in her hometown. “We bailed them out and have got nothing in return.”