As evidenced by Barack Obama’s rise in the polls immediately following the financial collapse of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, few Americans understand that for many years Fannie and Freddie have been, first and foremost, tools of Democratic politicians, funders of the Democratic Party, and, in the words of a former Fannie CEO, the intimate “friends” and “family” of the Democratic Party’s left wing.
Nor are most Americans aware that Fannie and Freddie, through their eponymous grant-making foundations, have funneled literally hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to a host of leftist groups and causes that work to promote Democratic agendas, causes, and policies. To set the record straight, it is worthwhile to examine the connections between Fannie, Freddie, and the Democratic Party.
A full account of the recent financial collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must consider the role of the Clinton administration. As early as 1993, Clinton’s first year in office, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Attorney General Janet Reno expressed dismay over reports that the rejection rate of black mortgage applicants nationwide was considerably higher than that of their white counterparts. In response, Reno warned that thenceforth “no bank” would be “immune” to an aggressive Justice Department campaign to punish such “discrimination” in the lending market. For emphasis, then-Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick pledged to work for the elimination of all racial disparities in mortgage lending rejection rates.
A careful look at the facts revealed, however, that those disparities were not actually due to discrimination of any kind. Instead, they reflected the realities of borrowers’ credit-worthiness, as determined by such objective factors as credit history, debt burden, income, net worth, age, and education.
But the political champions of “racial justice” in the Clinton White House were not interested in these facts. So instead of permitting this information to change their outlook on the issue of mortgage lending, they moved ahead with their crusade to inject new energy into the so-called Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which, according to President Clinton, had failed to live up to its potential as a vehicle for increasing minority homeownership. Thus began the government policy of forcing lenders, under threat of severe sanctions, to make subprime loans to high-risk borrowers who failed to meet traditional loan criteria. It was a policy guaranteed to create a crisis. The only question was when.
Now that the crisis has arrived, Democratic finger-pointing has become the order of the day. Leading the charge, Barack Obama not only blames Republicans, but tacitly blames capitalism as a whole, referencing it by the pejorative code name of “trickle-down” economics. Yet, Obama makes no mention of the fact that the Bush administration exhorted Congress for years to set up an agency to regulate lending institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Nor does he mention that John McCain demanded similar oversight, only to be rebuffed by Democrats like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, who continued to favor the issuance of the subprime loans that have now caused the mortgage market to collapse.
Since the 1990s, indeed, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in the Democratic Party’s hip pocket. From 1991 to 1998, for example, Fannie Mae was headed by James Johnson, a longtime aide to former Democratic vice president Walter Mondale. While dutifully following the Clinton administration’s aforementioned mandate, and thereby helping to run the mortgage lender into the ground, Johnson himself earned tens of millions of dollars in his Fannie Mae post, including $21 million in 1998 alone. Johnson made headlines this past summer when Barack Obama tapped him to chair his vice presidential selection committee. Johnson had to resign in disgrace from that position when it was revealed that he had taken at least five below-market real estate loans totaling more than $7 million from Countrywide Financial Corporation.
Johnson’s successor as Fannie Mae’s head, Franklin Raines, had previously served as a budget director to President Bill Clinton. During his years at Fannie’s helm between 1999 and 2005, Raines, while continuing the ill-advised policies that ultimately would bankrupt the company, pocketed nearly $100 million in compensation before leaving under a cloud of scandal. It seems that Raines had manipulated profit-and-loss reports so as to enable himself and other senior executives to earn enormous bonuses on top of already-high salaries – in 2003 alone, Raines received $16.8 million in cash compensation – even as the financial empire he oversaw was imploding.
Another Fannie Mae luminary was Jamie Gorelick, who served as vice chair of the mortgage lender from 1998 to 2003. Prior to that, she had been Janet Reno’s Deputy Attorney General during precisely those years when the Clinton Justice Department was aggressively compelling banks to make subprime loans to unworthy borrowers. That experience gave Gorelick valuable training for her future post at Fannie Mae, where she ultimately would increase her personal net worth by $26 million.
While the foregoing Democrats collected obscene sums of cash as reward for their complicity in the subprime mortgage debacle, by no means were they the only beneficiaries of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money. Between 1989 and 2008, no fewer than 354 members of Congress received funds from Fannie and Freddie. Of those, 209 were Democrats who pulled in a combined $4.84 million. The leading recipient of Fannie/Freddie money was Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd, the Banking Committee Chairman who collected more than $165,000. Dodd opposed oversight of Fannie and Freddie and pushed hard for the continuance of subprime mortgage loans. In second place was Barack Obama, who, in just three years in the U.S. Senate, raked in $126,000. Third was Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, with $111,000.
Republicans, too, deserve a measure of criticism. Some 143 of them received Fanny and Freddie funds totaling just under $3.02 million. Utah Republican Robert Bennett, a Senate veteran, led the GOP with $107,999 in total contributions from the mortgage giants. Two independents also took in over $28 thousand.
As further evidence of the Democrats’ role in the credit crisis, consider Fannie Mae’s intimate relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which represents the far-left of the Democratic Party. At a 2005 ceremony, Fannie Mae’s interim CEO Daniel Mudd told the CBC (of which Barack Obama was a new member) how deeply he valued “the friendship and partnership between Fannie Mae and the Congressional Black Caucus.” Mudd referred to the CBC not only as “good friends to Fannie Mae and our mission,” but also as Fannie Mae’s “family” and “the conscience of Fannie Mae.” (For a video of Mudd’s remarks, click here.)
Such ties represent merely the tip of the iceberg. To gain a fuller appreciation for just how closely the mortgage companies were allied with the Democratic Party and its surrogates, one might look at the grant-making arms of Fannie and Freddie — specifically, the Fannie Mae Foundation and the Freddie Mac Foundation. The former was established in 1968, the latter in 1991. Together, they hold combined assets exceeding $285 million, and each year they give tens of millions of dollars (nearly $89 million in 2006 alone) in grants to predominantly leftwing organizations that promote a host of pro-Democrat agendas. Among the groups supported by Fannie and Freddie are the American Civil Liberties Union; the NAACP and the National Urban League; left-wing financier the Tides Foundation; pro-illegal immigration groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the National Immigration Forum, and the National Council of La Raza; pro-Democratic community activist groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center for Community Change, and the Alliance for Justice; feminist organizations like National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Law Center; and former president Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center. A comprehensive list of liberal, leftist, and pro-Democratic Fannie and Freddie grantees would fill an entire book.
During last week’s presidential debate, John McCain made a point of observing that Senator Obama and his fellow Democrats had long “defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing” and had blocked all efforts at reforming the now-notorious institutions. Obama parried the charge by insisting that American voters were “not interested in hearing politicians pointing fingers.” Obama’s defensiveness is understandable. If Americans took the time to examine the issue, they would discover that much of the blame for the current crisis belongs to the Democratic Party.