‘The Daily Show’ grills Gillibrand on her big-bank donations

Gillibrand on 'The Daily Show.' ()
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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand appeared on "The Daily Show" last night for what was supposed to have been a sympathetic interview about her work to overhaul the military's treatment of sexual assault cases.

But, after a few easy questions on that, host John Oliver switched to a thornier subject, asking Gillibrand about her campaign contributions from big banks, and the connection between those donations and her letter last year calling for changes to the Volcker Rule.

"Help me understand the relationship between banks and politics, because on the Venn Diagram of that you are right in the middle," Oliver said, rattling off that she was the number one recipient of money from Goldman Sachs, and that her second biggest contributor was JP Morgan. "What I deeply want to know is what do you have to do for that? What is required for that money? Because it makes me uncomfortable."

Gillibrand is, in fact, the top recipient from the banking and securities industry; in 2012, she collected nearly twice as much from the industry as the second-biggest beneficiary, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, who was running against consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, widely regarded as the scourge of Wall Street.

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Gillibrand's favored status among big banks hasn't been mentioned much as she's risen to become a national voice on women's issues, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and now, reforming sexual assault in the military.

She tried to brush off the first couple questions, talking about struggling families and saying it's "my job is to represent New York and do what's right for the people." She said there "needs to be far more accountability, far more transparency, and much less risk."

Gillibrand talked about her support for publicly funded elections--to cheers from the crowd--and said it was "irrelevant where the money comes from."

But Oliver wouldn't let it go.

He came back from a commercial break to ask about the $86,000 she received from Goldman Sachs. "Is there anything we can do to not have you take that money?" he asked.

"Let me give you some confidence," she said. "We had a very large vote about the banking industry, it was called the bailout. I voted against the bailout." She added, "I don't vote in favor of Wall Street, I vote for what makes sense for New York."

Oliver was also very curious about her letter from January 2012, asking Ben Bernanke to clarify the proposed Volcker Rule, but Gillibrand, who has become increasingly active on regulatory issues in recent years, objected to the notion she had opposed it.

"I support the Volcker Rule," she said, later adding "what the letter says if you have to be able to define it so the banks can follow the rules."

It was Gillibrand's third appearance on the show. The first two were less challenging, as she soaked up effusive praise from host Jon Stewart for her work on the 9/11 health care bill and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.