It's only welfare when somebody else gets the money. That seems to be the attitude of this week's Rogue, the Oregon Bankers Association, a trade group representing commercial banks.
In the past year, the federal government invested $263 million of public money in four Oregon-based OBA members. In addition, federally chartered OBA members such as Bank of America got more than $75 billion nationally. Schoolkids, senior citizens and low-income Oregonians are now in line for a bailout themselves. They're the beneficiaries of a $733 million income-tax hike the 2009 Legislature passed just before the close of the session.
But the OBA—its members' coffers flush with taxpayer dollars—recently became the largest contributor to the ballot initiative campaign to kill those taxes.
On Aug. 17, records show, the OBA gave $100,000 to Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes—the group's largest-ever political gift.
There are a couple of ways to look at OBA's contribution. One is that the banks are recycling public money to promote private interest. Two, they're hypocrites who got bailed out and want to deny others similar benefits.
Here's a metric to put the banks' roguish play in perspective: In 2008, according to study by the Bretton Woods consulting firm, the average Oregonian household paid $184 in overdraft or bounced-check fees—18 times the $10 corporate minimum income tax most of the state's companies pay.
OBA Executive Director Linda Navarro says the federal bailout is an "investment" that benefits all Oregonians, and has nothing to do with OBA's political contribution. She says new taxes are bad for small businesses.
"Our customers want the opportunity to have a public debate on the new taxes," she says.
If that debate pits laid-off teachers against the bankers whose lending policies helped crater the economy, we're all for it.