Break up Citigroup? Protesters demand answer in 2016
Chanting and clapping outside Citigroup Inc.'s Park Avenue headquarters, about 50 protesters tried to thrust the bank into the 2016 presidential race.
"As part of running for president, you have to answer 'The Citigroup Question' -- where do you stand on breaking up Citigroup?" said Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Andrew Cuomo for this year's Democratic nomination for New York governor. "Do you think Citigroup should be broken up, or do you think things are OK?"
The protest, organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, singled out the bank that Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren denounced in the Senate last week, saying its lobbyists drafted the derivatives deregulation that Congress added to its $1.1 trillion spending bill. The lawmaker became the subject of a reworded folk song.
"If I had a Warren, I'd end too big to fail," a circle of protesters sang to the tune of Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer." "I'd strengthen Volcker, bring back Glass-Steagall too! Use those laws to help my brothers and sisters all over this land."
Citigroup received $45 billion in bailout funds, plus asset guarantees, the most government support for any U.S. bank during the financial crisis. Taxpayers later profited as the company repaid the money. Jennifer Lowney, a bank spokeswoman, declined to comment on the rally.
Walking by the protesters, a trio of deliverymen in matching blazers from Bobby Van's Steakhouse, where a hamburger costs $23, brought lunch into the building shared by the bank and other tenants. Police officers lingered with hands in their pockets as metal barricades stood stacked and unused.
Jill Cashman, a retired teacher who volunteers at a Manhattan museum, asked for a lyrics sheet.
"These fancy swap things are not understandable for the normal human being," she said of the financial instruments at issue in the derivatives rules. "Too much risk with these big banks."
The firms also enjoy too many ties to the government, the protesters said. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew worked for Citigroup, his Washington predecessor Robert Rubin was paid more than $100 million when he worked there, and Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer was a Citigroup vice chairman.
Mitt Romney faced criticism of his Wall Street ties during his 2012 presidential run, and Hillary Clinton, a presumptive front-runner for 2016, has been faulted by both Republicans and some fellow Democrats for being too close to the financial elite. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has said he may run, will give up his senior adviser role at Barclays Plc at the end of the year, a person with knowledge of the move said.
"Ask Hillary Clinton," Teachout said. "Ask Jeb Bush. Where do you stand on The Citigroup Question?"