Protesters have gathered outside a meeting taking place in Chicago today between officials with the Obama Administration and some state Attorneys General or members of their staff, aimed at reaching agreement on a low-ball settlement with leading banks over foreclosure fraud. The proposed settlement would give homeowners a pittance in exchange for a broad release of liability from prosecution for the banks.
About eighty members of various community and faith groups in Illinois, including national groups like MoveOn.org, National People’s Action and The New Bottom Line, have gathered outside the Chicago O’Hare Hilton Hotel. They are holding a press conference there and protesting the proposed settlement. Later in the day, the protesters plan to visit the local offices of Illinois AG Lisa Madigan, who is on the executive committee which negotiated the settlement, and the Obama for America 2012 campaign headquarters.
The protesters object to the low dollar value of the settlement, estimated at $20-$25 billion, when there is currently $700 billion worth of negative equity – money owed on mortgages less than the value of the home – in America. They also object to the fact that there has been no meaningful investigation into the depths of foreclosure fraud by the Department of Justice or any federal regulator. Further, they oppose a broad release of civil and/or criminal liability for the banks for their conduct at all levels of the housing market.
The proposed deal will get circulated to the banks today. Many of the holdout AG offices did not send a representative to the Chicago meeting. But they have the information on the settlement, and for a variety of reasons the events of the next 24 hours are seen as consequential. There are even rumors, according to Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), of an announcement on the settlement appearing in tomorrow’s State of the Union Address. “They have not said anything to us on the State of the Union, but there’s a sense that they may do something,” added Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), an opponent of the settlement on a conference call today.
Miller ticked off a number of unknowns surrounding the settlement. “What investigation has there actually been? What claims are being released?” Miller Asked. “Where did this $20 billion number come from for damages? What mortgages does this apply to? Does it apply to securitized mortgages that the banks don’t really own? Will they be able to pass on the losses for their own misconduct? Which homeowners get relief? If it’s just a dollar figure that the banks have to hit, will they pick the most expensive houses for relief and increase resentment against those who get the breaks in America?”
Brown, Miller and the coalition arguing for a “fair settlement” want a thorough investigation, with the inclusion of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (at this point not a part of this settlement). “It’s hard to know what a meaningful settlement would look like when we don’t have full disclosure,” Brown said. “Instead of a thorough investigation and criminal prosecutions, we’re talking about not much more than a slap on the wrist. The banks are not just too big to fail, they’re too big to jail.”
Justin Ruben of MoveOn.org, a key coalition partner, cited new polling showing that found that 70% of Americans believe the banks have not been investigated enough on their foreclosure practices, and that 60% of those polls would be less likely to support the President for re-election if he gave the banks a sweetheart deal. By contrast, the President would gain support if he announced a real investigation into Wall Street’s practices. MoveOn has forwarded a petition asking for an investigation, and has acquired over 360,000 signatures.