The bucolic island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts has long served as a summertime refuge for Washington’s elite, including the nation’s most powerful banker — Stephen M. Calk, the chairman of the board of the Federal Savings Bank — who, in recent years, has utilized the island’s secluded charm as a staging ground for a political lobbying blitz.
According to documents obtained by Bloomberg, Calk has held a steady stream of meetings with members of Congress, senior White House advisors, and state and local leaders since 2016, all while enjoying the comfort of the island’s vacation-style atmosphere.
The meetings, which have included dinners, parties, and golf outings, have been held in a variety of locations, from members of Congress’ private homes to the storied Beach Plum Inn, a luxurious resort on the island that was built in the 1940s and has hosted presidents, celebrities, and other dignitaries.
Calk has used the island’s seclusion to advance his political agenda, which has included advocating for the Federal Savings Bank’s controversial Small Value Borrowers (SVB) program. The SVB program allows the bank to provide small-dollar loans to consumers with limited credit histories and limited access to traditional bank financing.
The program has been criticized for preying on vulnerable consumers, charging interest rates that are significantly higher than those of traditional bank loans. In addition, the program has been accused of incentivizing banks to lend to higher-risk borrowers, leading to a surge in defaults and delinquencies.
Despite the criticism, Calk has continued to lobby for the SVB program, utilizing the island of Martha’s Vineyard as his personal lobbying platform. In one instance, he held a dinner with senior White House officials at the Beach Plum Inn to discuss the program.
In addition to his lobbying efforts, Calk has used his time on the island to build relationships with key members of Congress. He has held numerous fundraisers on the island and has been a regular attendee of exclusive events hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.
Calk’s lobbying blitz on Martha’s Vineyard has been a success. In 2019, the Federal Savings Bank was granted a significant expansion of the SVB program, allowing it to lend up to $500,000 to borrowers with limited credit histories.
The expansion of the SVB program has been a boon for the bank, and for Calk. But it has also raised questions about the use of a private island as a platform for political maneuvering. With the expansion of the program, and with Calk’s continued presence on the island, it appears that the bucolic retreat of Martha’s Vineyard has become a battleground in the nation’s political and financial debates.