Continuing to battle Wall Street as she bolsters her run for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to escalate scrutiny on private equity firms.
Under newly filed legislation, The Stop Wall Street Looting Act, firms would share responsibility for the liabilities of companies under their control, including debt, legal judgments, and pension obligations to “better align the incentives of private equity firms and the companies they own.” The bill, if enacted, would end the tax subsidy for excessive leverage and closes the carried interest loophole.
The bill also seeks to ban dividends to investors for two years after a firm is acquired. Worker pay would be prioritized in the bankruptcy process, with guidelines intended to ensure affected employees are more likely to receive severance pay and pensions. It would also clarify gift cards are consumer deposits, ensuring their priority in bankruptcy proceedings. If enacted, private equity managers will be required to disclose fees, returns, and political expenditures.
In an effort to require regulators to better address risky leverage, the bill reinstates Dodd-Frank Act provisions that require arrangers of corporate debt securitization to retain some of the inherent risk.
“Over the last two decades, private equity activity in the economy has exploded,” Warren wrote. “Since 2009, investors have allocated $5.8 trillion globally to private equity. Private equity funds have purchased companies in all sectors of the economy—from nursing homes, to newspapers, to grocery stores—laying off hundreds of thousands of workers and ruining thousands of companies in the process. Today, 35,000 companies owned by private equity employ nearly 5.8 million workers.”
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, along with Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are co-sponsors of the bill. Joining the lawmakers in introducing the legislation on Thursday were Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
“For far too long, Washington has looked the other way while private equity firms take over companies, load them with debt, strip them of their wealth, and walk away scot-free—leaving workers, consumers, and whole communities to pick up the pieces,” Warren said. “Our bill ends these abusive practices by putting private investment funds on the hook for the decisions made by the companies they control, ending looting, empowering workers and investors, and safeguarding the markets from risky corporate debt.”
The legislation is supported by the AFL-CIO, Americans for Financial Reform, American Federation of Teachers, SEIU, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, and others with similar political viewpoints.
“If the Vikings had had public relations teams, they would have claimed to be making better use of the resources of the fishing villages they pillaged. Private equity often leaves a similar trail of destruction-looting productive resources rather than salvaging unproductive ones. This bill addresses serious problems with the private equity business model, without getting in the way of firms that actually do produce allocative or operational efficiencies that strengthen the U.S. economy,” said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, in a statement.