Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Wall Street too big to cheat?

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
  • Ed Rollins says Americans are angry about government bailouts of financial institutions
  • Rollins says the SEC case against Goldman Sachs bolsters argument for financial regulation
  • Goldman's hiring of a former White House counsel sends a bad signal, Rollins says
  • Rollins: GOP should join with Democrats in passing curbs on Wall Street's excesses

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- As the Tea Party movement has become the vehicle for the frustration of hundreds of thousands of Americans against elected officials and the government bailout of Wall Street, I've thought many times about Gordon Gekko, the fictional character in the superb 1987 movie "Wall Street."

Played by Michael Douglas, Gekko speaks to a meeting of stockholders in words that became the anthem of the '80s. "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works!"

For two years, much of the debate in Congress regarding banking and financial reform has been focused on another theme -- "Too big to fail."

More simply put: How does Congress protect the American taxpayer from again bailing out the massive banks when and if they get into financial trouble by making bad investments? If they are too big and they fail, what economic chaos will be caused by those failures?

Video: Obama's financial crisis fix
Video: Goldman hires ex-Obama adviser

Most Americans want to know if -- after receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts -- the banking system is safe and better able today to do its job of providing credit to companies and consumers.

With the collapse and bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the forced sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America, the one bank that stands on the top of the heap is Goldman Sachs. To many Americans, Goldman is the training institution for the Treasury Department. The revolving door between the executive suites of Goldman Sachs and the executive office of the secretary of the Treasury is well-known.

But after the week Goldman Sachs just had, the more fundamental question that needs to be asked -- rather than "too big to fail" is: "Are these guys too big to cheat?"

To those of you not following the developments, this is a quick summary of Goldman's awful week.

On Tax Day, April 15, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors were examining whether a Goldman Sachs board member gave inside information to a hedge fund founder that, if true, is clearly illegal.

The next day, April 16, in a separate case, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Goldman and alleged that it "defrauded investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product."

"Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party."

Goldman denied the charges, and its sympathizers accused President Obama -- who got nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from Goldman employees -- of orchestrating the SEC lawsuit to sell his banking reform package. And then, it turns out that Goldman has done something else dumb -- by hiring Obama's recently departed White House lawyer, Gregory Craig, to help handle its legal strategy.

Craig is an extremely competent and respected lawyer. He knows the town and the players. But Washington is full of competent lawyers and people who know the game. Obama said his administration was going to be different and the revolving door of government service and back to the private sector was going to stop. It hasn't. This is not the president's mistake. It is another Goldman Sachs mistake.

And then Monday, Goldman announced its "good news." In the first quarter of this year, the bank's earnings of $3.46 billion were 91 percent higher than a year ago. It also announced it has set aside $5.5 billion (up 17 percent) to pay salaries and bonuses to employees.

Talk about stepping on your story: fraud, cheating, insider information and then record profits. My reaction to the charges of fraud -- which, if true, are outrageous -- is: Why? If you can make enormous profits legally, why go over the line?

I had the same reaction when the two-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were caught illegally spying on the then lowly Jets. If you can win on the football field, why violate the rules?

Is it greed, or is it working the system? Where is the leadership of these companies, and where is the ethics? I don't know enough about banking or the law to know if Goldman Sachs is guilty as charged. I don't know if its profits or bonuses are excesses. But I do know enough about politics and public relations to tell you they are a walking disaster and are the most compelling case for Wall Street reform.

The president and Democrats in Congress are on the war path. They feel they have a winning issue that will help them in November. Republicans are trying to block the reform by arguing the bill is defective and will hurt a recovering economy. They may be right, but I can tell you it's not good politics to be defending Wall Street these days.

Republicans will benefit by working to make this a better bill, not killing it. This really needs to be a bipartisan effort because so much is at stake. The Tea Party is Main Street, and Main Street isn't making billion-dollar profits and handing out million-dollar bonuses.

To the 20 million unemployed or underemployed Americans, a job itself is bonus enough. They don't agree with Gordon Gekko. They don't think greed is good or works or is right. It's Congress' job to make sure their wishes are heard and Wall Street excesses are reined in.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.