Eric Cantor was shockingly defeated in a primary for his seat in Congress and promptly resigned before his term was up, leaving his district without representation until January. But do not weep for him. He’s now got a cushy job as vice president of an investment banking firm, a field he has zero experience in, with a salary in the millions. What will he be doing? Selling his influence on Capitol Hill, of course.
The ousted House majority leader and longtime friend of the financial industry is joining Moelis & Company as a vice-chairman. His paycheck? At least $1.6 million in 2015, plus a million-dollar signing bonus. His duties? To “compete for business and advise corporate and investor clients on takeovers and other deals,” according to The Wall Street Journal. But I get the feeling that won’t be all Cantor will be doing, given his relationships on the Hill and total lack of investment-banking experience.
But how does influence-peddling work in 2014? What do these politicians really do when they end up on Wall Street? To shed some light on those questions, I spoke this morning with Dennis Kelleher. He’s a former corporate lawyer and longtime Senate staffer who now heads the nonprofit Better Markets, the banking lobby’s lonely public-interest opposition in Washington.
You hire an Eric Cantor. What do you expect him to get up to?
“Let’s look at Cantor’s résumé. Let’s look at all his investment-banking experience. Let’s look at his capital-markets experience. He has none. He has no experience or skills that would qualify him to be even an intern at a fifth-tier firm in the financial industry. I mean, come on! I love the spin. They’re pushing back this morning. They’re saying, ‘This is really different! This isn’t like everybody else.’“But Wall Street always goes with the sure bet and the well-worn path. They’re paying him a guaranteed — you’ve got to love Wall Street, you guarantee money because you can’t fail on Wall Street — they’re guaranteeing him $3.8 million. You don’t guarantee someone $3.8 million because you’re training him to be an investment banker.
“Wall Street is after what it’s always buying in Washington: access, influence, and unfair advantage. And Cantor is a big catch for anybody who wants access. Look, if you’re in congressional leadership for X number of years, you know plenty that’s worth a lot of money. If you’re the majority leader, who’s in charge of the agenda and vote counting? One of your jobs is to make sure you’re doling out favors to people. There are dozens and dozens of House members indebted to Eric Cantor for the things he’s done for them. You’re worth a lot.
“In addition, Eric Cantor knows why some things got done and other things didn’t get done. He knows why someone voted for or against a bill or amendment. He knows how to strategically target everybody in the House on the issues that anybody cares about in a way that’s close to unique. He’s not going to crudely do it in a way that puts the scarlet-L lobbyist on his lapel. He and the rest of the influence peddlers at the highest level of government work the shadows and do indirectly what the law prohibits them from doing directly.”
This is how our political economy works, folks. There is a revolving door between the government and the corporate world, which allows those who are well connected to sell the influence and access they have to the highest bidder.