Come for the pop culture references, stay for the absolute filleting of smug, smarmy, and thoroughly punchable bank CEOs. That's probably too long for a campaign slogan, but it's exactly what you get with California Rep. Katie Porter.
Yesterday, the House Financial Services Committee held an oversight hearing demanding accountability for abuses by Wells Fargo execs of their consumers and employees. Charles Scharf, President and CEO of Wells Fargo had his @ss handed to him during Rep. Porter's five minutes of brutal questioning. She not only proved him to be completely culturally unawares, (who HASN'T heard the song "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys?") but more importantly, she proved him to be corporately criminally irresponsible and negligent.
SCHARF: Excuse me?
REP. PORTER: Have you seen the movie, "Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle?"
SCHARF: No, I've not, Congresswoman.
She goes on to explain the reference, that in the movie, Neil Patrick Harris' character borrows their car and trashes it. When Wells Fargo lends money to customers to buy a car, they require them to pay a GAP (Guaranteed Auto Protection) waiver to protect against losses like that, just in case the insurance doesn't cover the value of the car. If the customer had paid off the loan of the car, however, there is no longer the need for that GAP waiver. Rep. Porter wanted to know if Scharf could explain if the bank had refunded that GAP waiver to its customers.
SCHARF: Congresswoman, I don't know the exact number sitting here of what we have returned.
REP. PORTER: Okay, the chart on the side? This is how much you owe: $600 million. This is how much you've returned. Zero.
The best thing about Rep. Porter is how she puts things in terms even the most out of touch CEOs must be forced to confront. While $350 is clearly not much to Scharf — he probably wipes his nose with that before he gets out of bed — she made sure to mention that $350 pays for 18 bags of groceries for a family who needs to eat.
Porter gave him one last chance to redeem himself on the cultural front, though:
SCHARF: I don't believe I have.
REP. PORTER: It's written by an American hero, Willie Nelson. I have three kids, Mr. Scharf, and I'm thinking of writing a new song, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Bank Tellers."
She went on to inform him that one-third of bank tellers in the U.S. are on public assistance, and the cost of that public assistance to bank tellers is almost $900 million per year. Taxpayers are funding the salaries of Wells Fargo bank tellers. Rep. Porter takes this opportunity to go in for the kill.
REP. PORTER: Is Wells Fargo profitable?
SCHARF: I believe it is, yes, Congresswoman.
REP. PORTER: You BELIEVE? I mean, it's 19.5 BILLION last year, so we can round that up to 20 billion. That's profit. So that bank can afford to pay its tellers significantly more. Do you think the hardworking taxpayers of this country should be shoring up Wells Fargo's tellers' salaries, when the bank has profits of $20 billion a year, and paid out $30 billion in buybacks and dividends last year?
He stammered something about paying people fairly, and raising wages, but she called him on that BS, too because Wells Fargo had only raised wages in places where it costs more to live, not across the board. More discrimination against the poor.
We need Rep. Katie Porter clones fighting with this passion and clarity against greed and grift all up and down the halls of Congress.