Throughout his career in Congress, Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) has spearheaded initiatives to help lobbyists and his financial industry donors shield banks from regulation, and exempt them from predatory lending rules. Now, just after Bank of America was fined $100 million for mistreating unemployed workers, the third-term Indiana lawmaker used a congressional hearing to publicly commend the company’s CEO for hiring his top aide, Sruthi Prabhu.
“I wanted to let you know — Sruthi, raise your hand, Sruthi. She has been my team member for a couple of years, but [next week], she becomes a Bank of America team member,” Hollingsworth said. He added that “she is very, very excited, so I hope you’ll take good care of her and know and recognize the talent that she has shown already in our office. I’m sure she’ll do the same at Bank of America.”
“We’ll do that, and her father already works for us,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan replied. “So he’ll take care of it.”
The exchange offered a rare, on-camera look at the revolving door between Congress and the financial industry, as well as the remarkably cozy relationship between lawmakers on the House financial services committee and big banks. And if you ever wonder whether CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are acutely aware of who they are hiring from Congress — even mid-level hires — the answer is apparently yes.
“I was in the room when this happened and it was just as gross and wild in person as it is here,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “People rightly discuss conflicts of interest of members of Congress, but lobbying of senior staff (who move on behalf of members + committees) is a huge part of the problem too.”
Hollingsworth’s comments to Moynihan on Thursday were no aberration. As banks were raking in billions in overdraft fees during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hollingsworth used a hearing with Moynihan and other big bank CEOs last year to praise banks for what they “have done throughout the course of this pandemic and the lifeline that they have served to countless businesses and American families.”
He continued: “To the tens of thousands of those employees who work in Indiana's 9th District, and the millions of Americans who work in financial services all across this country, I want you to know you were not found wanting in this crisis. We are deeply grateful that America's economy is recovering and was able to function throughout the crisis because of the work you did every single day.”
Hollingsworth has been a reliable ally of the financial industry in Congress. In 2018, he proposed legislation that would have exempted banks from payday lending rules. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the bill would have allowed banks to once again offer payday loans with interest rates of 200-300 percent.
The House financial services committee on which Hollingsworth sits is known as a fundraising committee because it puts members in a prime position to raise money from big banks and Wall Street. Indeed, Hollingsworth’s top campaign donors have included the American Bankers Association and Mortgage Bankers Association, two bank lobbying groups. The donation figures are relatively small, likely because Hollingsworth is immensely wealthy.
Hollingsworth is worth about $75 million, making him the ninth richest member of Congress, according to a Business Insider review of his financial disclosure. Much of that comes from a real estate investment company that Hollingsworth started at the age of 24, reportedly with financing from his father, that buys large industrial warehouse sites.
During his first congressional race, Hollingsworth spent roughly $3 million of his own money on his campaign, while his father created and funded a super PAC with $1.5 million to help him.
A potential candidate for governor in 2024, Hollingsworth is retiring from Congress this year, which could be why his senior staffers are now cashing in.
Prabhu, who’s heading to Bank of America, has worked in Hollingsworth's office since 2020, most recently as a senior policy advisor covering financial issues, among other topics, according to Legistorm. Prabhu’s father currently works as a senior information architect at the bank.
Prabhu is following in the footsteps of Hollingsworth’s former chief of staff, Rebecca Shaw. In January, a week before Hollingsworth announced his retirement, Shaw joined the bipartisan lobbying firm Subject Matter.
Her clients have included the credit card processor Square, credit card company Capital One, financial services company Capital Group, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a lobbying group for securities firms and investment banks.
Shaw has also worked with the DeFi Education Fund, an advocacy group for the decentralized finance industry. Last month, Prabhu spoke at the organization’s conference on its “Congressional Confessional” panel.