Exclusive: Is Goldman Sachs Playing Fair?

GOLDMAN SACHS logo, on US money texture
Ask the average American worker about Wall Street, and they will shout about the bailouts, the bonuses and the excessive risk-taking that nearly took down the U.S. economy.

"There's enormous tension, enormous envy," said Jon Corzine, who has served as governor of and as a senator from New Jersey. "There's an enormous gap between Wall Street and Main Street."

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports no one right now represents that gap more than the most profitable investment banking firm on Wall Street -- where Corzine was once CEO -- Goldman Sachs.

"They have succeeded for a very long period of time, and so they have become very much a symbol of what is very frustrating to the general public," Corzine said.

To understand Goldman's out-sized influence take a look at the powerful jobs held by current and former employees: three former treasury secretaries, three presidents of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a White House chief of staff, president of the World Bank, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (Wall Street's law enforcement arm), head of the New York Stock Exchange, heads of the Banks of Canada and Italy and even a prime minister of Italy.

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"They've been very successful at being able to get that close to people they'd like to get close to," said Anthony Scaramucci, a former Goldman vice president. Scaramucci now runs his own money management company.

"As a shareholder," Scaramucci said, "don't you want senior management creating influence like that around the world?"

But increasingly that international influence has come at a cost to Goldman's once gold-plated image - including the charge of putting its own interest above all else.

For example: allegedly helping the Greek government hide its ballooning debt - and then betting it would eventually default - contributing to a financial crisis so deep it has led to riots in the streets.

Goldman defended itself against similar accusations about its role in the housing crisis in a letter issued Wednesday, saying it didn't "bet against our clients," but rather was simply "managing our risk."

Goldman Sachs declined our request for an interview. To the company's credit, it has repaid the $10 billion in bailout money plus interest - and shifted another $500 million in bonus funds to charity. It recently said in its annual report that "adverse publicity," bad PR, could pose a risk to its bottom line.

To protect that bottom line, Goldman employs an army of lobbyists in Washington, 46 in all, from 13 different firms. That's more than Bank of America and Morgan Stanley combined.

Goldman employees also made campaign contributions to more than half of the members of the last Congress.

Last December, when the banking reform bill was before a key Congressional committee, Goldman employees showered its top Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, with more than $34,000 in donations.

Meaning when it comes beating back regulation, Goldman isn't shy in leveraging all its connections.

"Goldman has come across in this crisis as telling people, 'we're way smarter than you, we had our cake, and we ate it too,'" Scaramucci said.

Given its nearly 150-year history, don't bet on Goldman allowing a change in that menu anytime soon.