WASHINGTON – The Democratic presidential candidates sparred late Sunday over who would be toughest on Wall Street if elected president, with all three pledging to go beyond the Dodd-Frank Act.
Hillary Clinton said her plan was the harshest because it would focus on the nonbanks that caused the financial crisis, not just on the big commercial banks, which she implied had already been dealt with by the 2010 regulatory reform law.
"It builds on the Dodd-Frank," Clinton said during the presidential primary debate, noting her opponents "have focused only on the big banks. Lehman Brothers, AIG, the shadow banking sector were as big a problem in what caused the Great Recession. I go after them."
But the former Secretary of State drew sharp attacks from both Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, both of whom claimed she was too tied to Wall Street. Sanders noted that many big banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, had given money to her presidential campaign.
"Can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals?" Sanders said. "So it's easy to say, well, I'm going to do this and do that, but I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street."
Clinton countered those attacks by noting that President Obama also raised money from the financial services sector while stewarding financial reform.
"He's criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street," Clinton said of Sanders. "I personally believe that President Obama's work to push through the Dodd- Frank... and then to sign it was one of the most important regulatory schemes we've had since the 1930s."
She noted that the Republican candidates all want to roll back Dodd-Frank.
"I'm going to defend Dodd-Frank and I'm going to defend President Obama for taking on Wall Street, taking on the financial industry and getting results," Clinton said. "The Republicans want to give them [banks] more power, and repeal Dodd-Frank. That's what we need to stop."
Sanders touted his own plan to break up the biggest banks and reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking.
Big banks "have too much economic power and they have too much financial power over our entire economy," Sanders said. "Break them up. I believe that's what the American people to want see."
O'Malley, who is running a distant third to Sanders and Clinton in national polls, also said he would bring back the Glass-Steagall Act and that he would be tougher on Wall Street than Clinton.
"I support reinstituting a modern version of Glass-Steagall that would include going after the shadow banks, requiring capital requirements that would force them to no longer put us on the hook for these sorts of things," O'Malley said. "Secretary Clinton, you do not go as far as reining in Wall Street as I would."
But Clinton argued that a new law to break up the big banks isn't necessary because Dodd-Frank already has provisions in it that allow regulators to unwind large institutions. She said Dodd-Frank had ended "too big to fail."
"If we're going to be serious about this and not just try to score political points, we should know what's in Dodd-Frank, and what's in Dodd-Frank already gives the president the authority…to break up big banks that pose...a risk to the financial" sector, Clinton said.
She also said that Sanders has a checkered history of being tough on the financial industry, including voting for the Commodity Modernization Act which lessened oversight of derivatives trading.
"You're the only one on this stage that voted to deregulate the financial market in 2000," Clinton said to Sanders.
Clinton failed to note, however, that the Commodity Modernization Act was championed by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who signed it into law when in office.
Sanders also said he would impose a "tax on Wall Street speculation" to help pay for free college at public institutions and said that he would end the revolving door of bank executives landing high profile jobs within the administration.
"Goldman Sachs has given this country two secretaries of Treasury, one on the Republicans, one under Democrats," Sanders said in reference to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin who served in the Clinton Administration and Henry Paulson who served in the second Bush Administration.
"Here's a promise. If elected president, Goldman Sachs is not going to… bring forth a secretary of Treasury for a Sanders administration," Sanders said.