Recently, some 500 protesters led by the Service Employees International Union gathered on the lawn of the home of Greg Baer, an attorney for Bank of America. They were allegedly upset about his employer’s role in the financial crisis that has put so many Americans out of work.
If you want to hold a protest going after the “banksters,” who foolishly took on enormous risk and then got a taxpayer bailout, well, just let me know where to sign up.
But since when did it become OK for a mob of protesters to storm the yard and front porch of somebody’s private home? Baer’s frightened 14-year-old son had to barricade himself in the bathroom. That’s not exercising your right to peaceably assemble. It’s intimidation, pure and simple.
Chris Hayes of the leftist magazine The Nation extolled the SEIU protest, comparing it to the angry congressional health care town halls that erupted last summer. Hayes was pleased to finally see similar outrage over the failures of capitalism, concluding, “It’s about damn time.”
Of course, context matters. When an elected representative schedules an event for the specific purpose of airing constituent grievances, nobody should be surprised if someone shows up angry. As long as there’s no violence, a little heat applied to your representative can even be healthy for democracy. (Tellingly, the only notable violence at a health care town hall occurred when SEIU members beat up Ken Gladney, a black Obamacare protester in a wheel chair.)
But showing up at a private citizen’s house with 500 of your closest friends and yelling at their kids with a bullhorn? So much for civil society.
The other disconcerting issue here is the SEIU. Hayes has written tellingly in the past about special-interest corruption, but for some reason he failed to ask why SEIU officials were going to such extreme measures to attack Bank of America.
Bank of America isn’t an innocent bystander in the financial crisis. But many more financial institutions were in deeper with the subprime mortgage fiasco, and many other banks had more pernicious influence on lawmakers and executive branch officials. Goldman Sachs was practically leaving a toothbrush in the West Wing.
And yet, Bank of America is mentioned 5,170 times on SEIU’s website, with most mentions being attacks on the bank and its CEO, Ken Lewis. By comparison, Lehman Bros. gets 144 mentions on SEIU’s website, Goldman Sachs 688 and AIG 144.
Why the Bank of America obsession? Here’s a clue: In 2008, the union’s total liabilities were $156 million. According to Department of Labor filings, in 2007 the SEIU owed $94,578,779 to ... Bank of America.
Eight years ago, the SEIU had only $8 million in outstanding liabilities. Since 2002, the union spent $80 million to purchase a new headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., and another $67 million electing Democrats, including President Barack Obama, in 2008.
There’s also this: SEIU members are being robbed — not by Wall Street, but their own union. In 2005, SEIU’s pension plan was only 82 percent properly funded, which, by government standards, officially made it “endangered.” It’s almost certainly become worse since then.
Maybe that’s why SEIU officers have their own fully funded pension plan separate from the endangered fund for the rank-and-file. Are SEIU leaders making trouble for it’s biggest creditor to keep people from noticing the union is headed for bankruptcy?
Mark Hemingway is a Washington Examiner commentary staff writer.