Bailed out and unpunished

Tuesday - 5/17/2011, 4:53pm EDT

The best line from this year's Oscar awards did not come from a big-time movie star but from a guy named Charles Ferguson. He and Audrey Marrs made the Oscar winning documentary "Inside Job" about Wall Street's role in the crash of 2008.

Mr. Ferguson said, "Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."

The quote came rushing back when President Obama announced that he was running for re-election. The President has since underscored his seriousness with fund raisers in Chicago and elsewhere and a fresh show of backbone toward Congressional Republicans in campaign remarks.

As a former elected official, I know that a good time to make a case with candidates is when they're asking for your vote.

This is that time.

It's only nine and a half months from the New Hampshire Primary, Feb. 14. So, join me in my own demand for Mr. Obama and his Republican challengers: Prosecute a Wall Street banker.

Mr. Obama promised in 2009 to clean up Wall Street. He said then, "It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation and punishes short-cuts and abuse."

Some rules have been changed in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, but still no punishment.

Eliot Spitzer is a flawed source, especially when it comes to marriage, but his record as a federal prosecutor in New York and Wall Street is far more substantial than Mr. Obama's Justice Department. Spitzer repeatedly has outlined what the prosecutor's office can do, how to do it, and who to do it to.

The emails and evidence are there and now on film. As investigative reporter Matt Taibbi says of the bankers, "They did not get punished. They got bailed out."

Mr. Obama will have to investigate some of his biggest contributors: Goldman Sachs executives were his second largest group of donors, $994,000; Citigroup, $701,000; JP Morgan Chase, $695,000.

Republicans, despite Tea Party outrage at Wall Street, show no stomach for punishment. Indeed, Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says, "My view is that Washington and regulators are there to serve the banks."

But Mr. Obama is in charge of the Justice Department, and he should know that the absence of justice for billionaire Wall Street frauds affects economic recovery and public confidence.

And if he doesn't know, the public should ask him, again and again: When will you prosecute a Wall Street banker?