Bubble Barons Investigation Concludes Today!
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 31, 2010 at 11:14 EST

A quick note: the investigation of the bubble barons concludes today at midnight PST! Analysts in the research group have made literally thousands of edits to the bubble barons profiles, digging through their family foundations and obscure businesses to get to the bottom of who, exactly, these folks are. In some sense the investigation will never be complete: there is always more data to collect on individuals who control billions of dollars.

Fittingly, then, our next featured investigation will center around one of the bubble barons. Can you guess which one?

If you are in the group, make your final edits before tonight’s midnight deadline!

Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Looters
By Matthew Skomarovsky  •  Mar 29, 2010 at 11:53 EST

LittleSis is expanding its investigation into the networks of money and influence behind efforts to gut Social Security. Join the Social Security Looters research group if you want to get involved.

The most generous bank bailout in history has amplified Wall Street’s considerable political influence, and the economic implications of this democratic calamity go well beyond bloated bonuses. Over the past year, the financial propaganda machine has set its sights on Social Security, launching a massive assault on one of the nation’s most important economic programs. But rather than push back against the flawed economic assumptions of the nation’s financial elite, President Barack Obama appears to be advancing their arguments, and is now poised to repeat George W. Bush’s politically perilous efforts to gut Social Security.

A decade of wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the fallout from Wall Street’s housing bubble have almost tripled U.S. public debt since 2001, from $5 trillion to $14 trillion. Big, scary numbers like this, along with carefully timed downgrade warnings from Wall Street’s obedient rating agencies and continuing worries about the financial collapse of Greece, Portugal and other nations have changed the political climate in Washington, breathing new life into decades-old schemes to slash Social Security and Medicare entitlements.

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The Lobbyist Behind Blanche Lincoln’s No Vote on Reconciliation
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 23, 2010 at 16:56 EST

Score one for Wall Street. The student loan industry has convinced Senator Blanche Lincoln to vote against the healthcare reconciliation bill on the grounds that it contains “matters unrelated to healthcare” — code for student loan reform, as David Dayen notes.

How did the student loan industry secure Lincoln’s support? The same way they found other Senatorial defenders for their wasteful subsidies: the power of money, deployed through a combination of campaign contributions and strategic lobbyist hires.

In Lincoln’s case, the simplest answer is Kelly Bingel. Bingel has been lobbying for the student loan industry since mid-2009, and she is extremely close to Lincoln. Bingel was the Senator’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2005, and a longtime Lincoln aide before that. She has since joined Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti, a lobbying firm which has played a central role in the healthcare fight, lobbying for AHIP, PhRMA, and many other insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
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Ironic Tidbit of the Day
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 22, 2010 at 10:33 EST

C.Douglas has made an interesting observation: the wife of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Laura Blankfein, isn’t the chair of just any Manhattan private school. She’s the chair of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School!

Ethical Culture!

Fieldston, as it is known, was founded by social reformer Felix Adler. From the school’s website: “Within Adler’s ethical philosophy, cooperation rather than competition remained the higher social value.”

Just like Lloyd! And Laura.

September 11, 1989
By Matthew Skomarovsky  •  Mar 16, 2010 at 19:50 EST

It wasn’t my intention, launching LittleSis with Kevin in January 2009, to be so consistently absent from our blog. Early on we made the decision to divide up our growing organizational responsibilities, with Kevin taking on research, writing, and outreach — the activity that keeps LittleSis fresh — while I focused on adding to our website’s features and fixing bugs. Division of labor is a notoriously double-edged sword, and while it’s arguably helped our productivity it’s made it hard for me to write anything but PHP and SQL. Now that our urgent web development needs have dwindled, I’m feeling ready for a return the mean streets of sentences and paragraphs.

Today politics nerds have been scrambling to outdo each other digging up old archival videos now available on C-SPAN’s new Video Library. Naturally I went fishing for a juicy Larry Summers clip, and quickly found one from September 11, 1989 called The Politics of Message: Economics, part of a conference of Democratic Party leaders. The purpose of this event, as far as I can tell, was to gather key corporate Democrats — including Summers, Robert Rubin, Roger Altman, and Laura Tyson — to present economic talking points for the re-branded business-friendly party that Clinton brought back to power three years later, landing Summers, Rubin, Altman, and Tyson with top-level positions in the administration, where they put their theories to practice. Their collective influence in economic policy remains huge in the Obama administration. (Not that they don’t have some conflicting views or interests.)

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Dodd’s Decision to Retire Likely Doomed Financial Reform Bill
By Andrew Stecker  •  Mar 11, 2010 at 11:53 EST

When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) announced last January that he would not seek reelection, some media outlets declared that Dodd’s retirement would actually increase the chances that robust financial regulatory reform would be enacted (for example, see articles by The Washington Post and BusinessWeek). Such analyses demonstrate a near total ignorance of the processes of lobbying and campaign financing that dominate Congress. In reality, Dodd’s announcement likely signaled that the aggressive reform of the finance industry widely called for at the height of the crisis will not become law; at least not while Dodd remains Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

The notion that the decision to retire “freed” Dodd from political pressure, allowing him to concentrate on drafting legislation that would become his legacy, greatly underestimates the strength of the ties between Wall Street and Senators like Dodd.  During his many years in the Senate, Dodd cultivated his ties to Wall Street and the industry’s K Street lobbyists to the extent that he essentially has two constituencies: the citizens of Connecticut, and the finance industry. Having freed himself from accountability to the former, he can now focus on serving the latter.

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Digging Deep on a Private Equity Duo
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 09, 2010 at 16:14 EST

Stephen Schwarzman and David Rubenstein are co-founders of two of the largest private equity firms in the world, the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group.  Both are under investigation by the bubble baron research group, with seanhartnett and Dan doing a tremendous job researching their networks and following their money.

As it turns out, Schwarzman and Rubenstein are closely connected to one another through a number of shared institutional affiliations.  So far, Dan and seanhartnett have connected both of them to JP Morgan, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Asia Society, the Business Council, and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.  Rubenstein rises to the top of Schwarzman’s interlocks tab, and vice versa.

Two days ago, Dan noticed that Rubenstein was succeeding Schwarzman as chair of the Kennedy Center, and wrote a note:

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How to Research the Bubble Barons’ Charitable Contributions
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 08, 2010 at 16:44 EST

One of the major objectives of the bubble barons investigation is to figure out where, exactly, all that money is going. Where are these billionaires investing their money? Which politicians do they support? Which charities benefit from their largess?

Today, I’m going to go over strategies for researching charitable contributions, and I’ll use my bubble baron, hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, as a case study.  Several LittleSis analysts have gotten a head start researching these questions – this will offer a bit more direction on how to research these questions. While googling julian-robertson donation will certainly get you somewhere, there are ways to get much more systematic, detailed information about charitable activities.

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What Makes Someone a Bubble Baron?
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 03, 2010 at 10:34 EST

The Bubble Barons investigation launched last week by AlterNet and LittleSis.org has gotten off to a fast start, with over 250 citizen journalists signed up to track down information on the 67 bubble barons we’ve identified. In less than a week, the research group has made over 500 edits to the LittleSis database, building out data on everything from the family ties of Dennis Washington to the investments and donations of Stephen Schwarzman. More than 30 analysts have participated in LittleSis.org research trainings.

You can follow the group’s progress at the Bubble Baron research page, which shows recent edits to bubble barons’ profiles, basic information and updates for the group, and notes from Bubble Baron analysts.

For those of you who haven’t signed up, it’s still not too late to get involved: click here to sign up for the Bubble Barons investigation.

What does it take for someone to be deemed a bubble baron? I used three main criteria when creating the list, drawing on Forbes’ lists of the 400 wealthiest Americans: Read more…