Elizabeth Warren aligns with daughter’s think tank on policy goals

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s high-profile campaigns to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and press criminal charges against HSBC and other “big banks” align neatly with viewpoints promoted and disseminated by her daughter’s left-wing think tank Demos, a George Soros-funded organization that played a vital behind-the-scenes role in Warren’s electoral victory last year.

Warren’s close relationship with Demos underscores not only the extent to which her own daughter aided her political career, but also the influence of well-funded progressive think tanks on the Democratic policy agenda as more openly progressive candidates gain national elective office.

Warren excoriated Senate Republicans Tuesday in her remarks defending the confirmation of Richard Cordray as head of the CFPB, a Dodd-Frank agency that Warren herself designed. Cordray was installed as CFPB director last year by President Barack Obama with a recess appointment, and has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Republicans have been attempting to hold up Cordray’s confirmation until the CFPB, which has been criticized for its sweeping and largely vague regulatory power, is reformed.

“I see nothing here but a filibuster threat against Director Cordray as an attempt to weaken the consumer agency. I think the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers,” Warren said.

The think tank Demos, founded in 2000 in New York City and currently chaired by Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, issued a report the same day as Warren’s remarks, titled “Why are Republicans blocking Richard Cordray at the CFPB?”

“Whether it’s protecting consumers from the type of reckless and deceptive mortgage lending that sparked the economic downturn or beginning to oversee the massive credit reporting companies that shape the financial lives of American consumers, the CFPB has proven itself to be a critical consumer watchdog,” Demos reported, accusing Republicans of trying to “stack the deck against the rest of us.”

Demos’ report was cited in media coverage of Warren’s remarks, with no mention of the group’s ties to the junior senator.

Warren’s crusade for the criminal prosecution of big banks has also been supported by Demos.

Warren garnered glowing headlines last month when she asked federal bank regulators how many times they’ve taken Wall Street banks to trial.

“There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial,’” Warren said.

Warren, who campaigned on a promise to hold Wall Street accountable but steered clear as a Senate candidate of calling for banks to be prosecuted, has since narrowed her focus, identifying the British bank HSBC as worthy of criminal prosecution and criticizing the Department of Justice (DOJ) for merely subjecting HSBC to a $1.92 billion fine for money laundering.

Demos has been leading the crusade to prosecute big banks, including HSBC, since at least last year.

A U.S. News and World Report editorial cross-posted March 8 to the Demos website, entitled “Do Whatever it Takes to Address Wrongdoing on Wall Street,” makes the case for prosecution of HSBC. Demos also promoted an American Prospect article from July 2012 highlighting the fact that HSBC and other banks were under investigation in relation to the LIBOR interest rate-rigging scandal.

And Demos senior fellow Wallace Turbeville appeared on Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer on Current TV in October 2012 to discuss the need for criminal actions against big banks. A clip of the segment was posted to the Demos website.

Demos invited Warren to speak at the organization’s events on multiple occasions dating back to 2003, presented Warren with its “Transforming America” award in 2010 just prior to to the launch of her Senate campaign, and praised Warren and her Senate run on its blog. Insiders believe that Warren Tyagi, who also chairs the liberal magazine The American Prospect, was responsible for introducing her mother to the progressive movement, and for creating the foundation of  her political career.

Demos has received funding from prominent liberal foundations and benefactors with their own specific policy interests. In 2011, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and Open Society Institute-Brussels both provided funding to Demos. Soros also hosted a New York City fundraiser for Warren in October 2011, shortly after insiders claimed that progressive movement titans convinced Warren to run for the Senate seat then occupied by Scott Brown.

Warren Tyagi, who resides in a mansion in Pacific Palisades, California with her husband, Iranian film producer Sushil Tyagi, became active in progressive politics after graduating from Brown University and the Wharton School of Business.

In May 2012, Demos successfully sued the state of Massachusetts to send voter registration forms to the state’s welfare recipients — a move that was seen to have benefited Warren’s campaign, and which cost Massachusetts taxpayers $276,000. Demos’ board of trustees includes Benjamin Taylor, former executive editor and publisher of the Boston Globe, which was criticized for pro-Warren bias during her Senate campaign.

While numerous think tanks on both sides of the aisle have aided the careers of politicians and provided the intellectual framework and messaging efforts for policy ideas, Demos’ agenda has been less than transparent.

The Demos mission statement on its website previously stated that “rethinking American capitalism” is a central goal of the organization.

“Most fundamentally, a sustainable, just, and democratic future requires rethinking American capitalism as it exists today as a system of political economy. If we are going to care for people and the planet, large-scale changes are needed in how Americans consume and live, how the United States structures economic activity and measures progress, and how we engage in the global economy,” according to a previous version of the mission statement.

Demos subsequently changed its mission statement in the aftermath of this reporter’s 2012 reporting on the group’s ties to Warren and its participation in Massachusetts politics. The term “rethinking American capitalism” was scrubbed from the mission statement and replaced with language reminiscent of Warren’s campaign talking points about the “middle class.”

“Working at the nexus of economic and social policy, Demos is advancing reform to strengthen the middle class and to create a path to economic prosperity for young Americans and future generations. We choose issues that focus the media and legislators on the struggles common to millions, and we show the public that solutions do exist. See our signature work on tomorrow’s middle class,” according to the revised version of the “About Us” section of the group’s website.

“We’ve been undergoing a strategic reassessment,” a Demos spokeswoman said during Warren’s Senate campaign. “That’s all — we’re just reassessing our messaging as an organization.”

The group’s “strategic reassessment” occurred in between Demos’ suing of the state of Massachusetts in May and Scott Brown’s criticism of the group in August, after its efforts in Massachusetts were publicly exposed.

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