Last week, another prominent financial institution demonstrated to the world its lack of moral fiber and concern for good business practices. It has been reported that Goldman Sachs paid $100,000 to a prominent D.C.-based lobbying firm to destroy a human rights bill supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The human rights bill, also known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, after the Russian lawyer who was killed and possibly tortured by Russian officials after he alleged a theft from the Russian government totaling hundreds of million of dollars. The act would "impose sanctions on persons responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky, and for other gross violations of human rights in the Russian Federation, and for other purposes." This would include being denied access to U.S. visas, and having one's assets in the U.S. frozen.
The scandal appears to be one of the many in which financial institutions put the profits of their clients before human rights issues or the well-being of the public. While most of those who oppose the bill do so on the grounds that it will be detrimental to Obama’s “resetting” of relations with Russia, many are speculating that Goldman Sachs was attempting to protect their multi-millionaire Russian clients from the sanctions the bill would impose, and the limitations it would place on their ability to bank in the United States. Less than a month ago, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, met with officials of Gazprom, the Russian energy giant. The details of the meeting have remained confidential, but many believe that the company was attempting to protect a possibly lucrative business deal.
Unfortunately, because Goldman Sachs is a private company, no probe can be ordered into the real reasons the financial giant decided to hire the D.C.- based Duberstein Group Inc. Lobbying disclosure forms, however, have demonstrated that firm did lobby against the bill. Goldman Sachs officials are doing their best to disassociate themselves from these activities. All those that do oppose the bill have been keeping their heads low, as the bill has such overwhelming support that any public opposition would leave the reputation of the bill’s opponents in tatters. The Obama administration has voiced opposition to the bill’s language, claiming that it may anger Russia, but no administration officials have called into question the legitimacy of the bill itself.
Goldman Sachs responded to the accusations by refusing to comment on its lobbying activity. Days later, the head of Goldman Sachs corporate communications, former Clinton administration official Jake Siewart, openly denied that the company had hired any firm to lobby against the bill, but would offer no details about the nature of the relationship between the two companies. Duberstein Group President, Michael Berman, later admitted that the lobbying firm was “monitoring” the legislation on Goldman’s behalf, but claims that the company took no position either for or against the bill. The fact that Duberstein was previously discovered to have lobbied against the legislation makes these assertions more than dubious.
While Russian human rights advocates are livid, no one should be angrier than the American people. Goldman was the Obama campaign’s largest Wall Street donor in 2008, and has since become the president’s largest donor overall. The fact that a company that is protecting the privileged position of accused murderers and torturers is able to gain an influential position in U.S politics due to hefty political donations and shady lobbying deals is a fact that the American people should begin to call into question.