This July, Bank of America was expecting to report an earnings increase of 32% from last year. The Washington Business Journaldeclared the bank among the top 10 “most improved brands” of the year. Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the United States following JPMorgan Chase.
So why does this bank deserve such an “improved” reputation? Perhaps it's worth looking at a little of the bank’s record for some clarity.
During the first year of the global financial crisis, which the big banks helped to create and which they profited enormously from, the government stepped in to bail out Bank of America. They rewarded the bank $20 billion for its massive financial crimes, as well as a special guarantee for nearly $100 billion of potential losses on the balance sheets of Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America acquired during the crisis.
As it turns out, Bank of America and other big banks continue to get "backdoor bailouts" through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which acts as a legal guarantor and protector of the Wall Street chain gang of criminal conglomerates. The bank was recently added to a list, compiled by a corporate watchdog group, of the "dirty dozen" criminal financial institutions for its role deceiving investors, committingmortgage and foreclosure abuses and engaging in municipal bond rigging and illegal payments.
When Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone that Bank of America was “a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we’ll all be paying for until the end of time,” he wasn't exaggerating. The bank foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans through a “mass perjury” scheme and pushed worthless mortgages on pension funds and unions. As several big banks – including BofA, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup – agreed to pay a $25 billion settlement with the government over “abusive mortgage practices,” the Department of Justice granted the banks what amounted to legal immunity “from civil government claims over faulty foreclosures.” In January, Bank of America settled to pay $11.6 billion to the government-controlled mortgage company Fannie Mae in response to a legal battle over “bad loans.”
In June of 2013, six former BofA employees and one contractor issued sworn statements in which they accused the bank of lying to homeowners, fraudulently denying loan modifications and paying bonuses to staff who pushed people into foreclosure. One of the whistleblowers commented, “we were told to lie to customers.” Employees that pushed ten or more homeowners per month into foreclosure would receive a $500 bonus, and the Bank also “gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure.”
Further, anyone who “questioned the ethics” of the bank's practices was summarily fired - a policy that led to a lawsuit in which homeowners accused the bank of racketeering “to defraud homeowners who sought modifications and then acted as the kingpin of that [racketeering] enterprise.”
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Bank of America, along with multiple other big banks, has been accused of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. The FBI confirmed that BofA was involved in laundering drug money for the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. However, in a twist of fine news for the bank, U.S. government regulators indicated they would not hold the bank responsible for its actions.
Banking on Influence
So how does a massive criminal enterprise engaging in large-scale fraud, racketeering and money laundering get a free pass from the U.S. government? The bank’s financial clout in the economy certainly plays a part. But so too do its affiliations with dominant national and international organizations, institutionalizing the bank within the larger global power structures and the elites who run them.
Research conducted for the Global Power Project found 28 individuals at Bank of America, including executives and members of board of directors, with institutional affiliations. Four of the individuals who hold leadership positions at BofA are also affiliated with the major foreign-policy think tank in the United States: the Council on Foreign Relations. Three individuals are connected to Morgan Stanley, another major financial institution, while two affiliations exist with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (promoting big business "solutions" to environmental crises), the Business Council, Catalyst, Duke University, Stanford University, and BlackRock.
The following institutions each also hold one individual affiliated with Bank of America: Royal Dutch Shell, DuPont, Deere & Company, the World Wildlife Fund, the President’s Export Council, Harvard, the World Economic Forum, Brookings Institution, Sara Lee Corporation, Monsanto, CBS Corporation, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Walt Disney Company, President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the Rockefeller Foundation, Business Roundtable, Financial Services Forum, PepsiCo, Carlyle Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Goldman Sachs, the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait.
Bank of America’s CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, was a former executive vice president at Fleet Boston and director of BlackRock. He is currently a member of the Business Roundtable and Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Forum, as well as being a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Charles O. Holliday, Jr. is the Chairman of the Board of Bank of America and a director of Royal Dutch Shell, and was the CEO of DuPont from 1998 to 2009. He was the former Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Business Council, Catalyst, the Society of Chemical Industry, and is a founding member of the International Business Council. Holliday is a director of Deere & Company, a member of the board of Planet Forward, Climate Works Foundation, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, and is a member of the board of directors of the National Geographic Education Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Mukesh D. Ambani is a member of the board of Bank of America and is the Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries. He is a member of the Global Board of Advisors of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry for the Government of India, a member of the board of governors of the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, and a member of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group. Ambani is also a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Indo-U.S. CEOs Forum, a member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, Vice Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Additionally Ambani is a member of the Business Council, the India-Russia CEO Council, Co-Chair of the Japan-India Business Leader’s Forum, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, and is a member of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution.
Monica C. Lozano is Chairman and CEO of ImpreMedia and CEO of La Opinion, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company. She is also a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, a Trustee of the University of Southern California and a director of the Weingart Foundation, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Commission of the 21st Century Economy. Lozano was a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board from 2009-2011, and has since been a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Charles O. Rossotti is a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group and was the Commissioner of the IRS from 1997 to 2002, also sitting on the board of directors of Booz Allen Hamilton, Quorum Management Solutions, Primatics Financial and AES Corporation. He too is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Linda P. Hudson, who sits on the board of BofA, is the President and CEO of the military contractor BAE Systems, and former Vice President of General Dynamics. Hudson sits on the board of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and on the executive committee of the Aerospace Industries Association. She is a member of the University of Florida Foundation Board and the International Women’s Forum.
Anne M. Finucance, who is the Global Strategy and Marketing Officer at Bank of America, is also a director of Partners HealthCare System, CVS Caremark Corporation, a trustee of Stonehill College and Carnegie Hall, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Finucance sits on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the American Ireland Fund, the International Center of Journalists, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Banking on America?
Bank of America is, in short, a profound symbol of much that is wrong on Wall Street: massive fraud, money laundering, racketeering, conspiracy, and weighty influence in Washington and beyond. Surely it's comforting to know that a woman who sits on the board of BofA, Monica Lozano, also sits on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, advising the president as to how to appropriately manage the economic "recovery". In terms of the media reporting on Bank of America's crimes, Lozano, as CEO of a media company and board member of the Walt Disney Company, along with BofA board member Charles K. Gifford — who sits on the board of directors of CBS Corporation — signal that a “fair” portrayal of the bank's activities aren't exactly what the public should expect.
What is clear is that Bank of America, like all big banks in our era, isn't merely a financial institution but simultaneously acts as an influential institution in the media, military industrial complex, think tanks, chemical companies and government circles.
The bank is too big to fail. Too big to jail. And too connected to change.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.