Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Financial Reform: Will Congress Take The Side Of Corporations Or The Public?

The ability of congress to pass financial reform may be no match for the ability of large financial corporations to block it. Political writer Matt Taibbi describes the efforts of Goldman Sachs to shamelessly lobby congressmen to protect the interests of the financial giant. See the following from Economist's View to learn more.

I am not as negative toward naked short-selling as Matt Taibbi (feel free to convince me I'm wrong), but his insights into the lobbying effort against financial reform are useful, and I share his concerns about the distortions (e.g. regulatory capture) this brings to the reform process:
An Inside Look at How Goldman Sachs Lobbies the Senate, by Matt Taibbi: ...Later on this week I have a story coming out in Rolling Stone that looks at the history of the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapses. The story ends up being more about naked short-selling and the role it played in those incidents than I had originally planned..., but it turns out that there’s no way to talk about Bear and Lehman without going into the weeds of naked short-selling...

It’s the conspicuousness ... that is the issue here, and the degree to which the SEC and the other financial regulators have proven themselves completely incapable of addressing the issue seriously, constantly giving in to the demands of the major banks to pare back (or shelf altogether) planned regulatory actions. There probably isn’t a better example of “regulatory capture” ... than this issue.

In that vein, starting tomorrow, the SEC is holding a public “round table” on the naked short-selling issue. What’s interesting about this round table is that virtually none of the invited speakers represent shareholders or companies that might be targets of naked short-selling, or indeed any activists of any kind in favor of tougher rules against the practice. Instead, all of the invitees are either banks, financial firms, or companies that sell stuff to the first two groups.

In particular, there are very few panelists — in fact only one, from what I understand — who are in favor of a simple reform called “pre-borrowing.” Pre-borrowing is what it sounds like; it forces short-sellers to actually possess shares before they sell them.

It’s been proven to work, as last summer the SEC, concerned about predatory naked short-selling of big companies in the wake of the Bear Stearns wipeout, instituted a temporary pre-borrow requirement...

The lack of pre-borrow voices invited to this panel is analogous to the Max Baucus health care round table last spring, when no single-payer advocates were invited. So who will get to speak? Two guys from Goldman Sachs, plus reps from Citigroup, Citadel (a hedge fund that has done the occasional short sale, to put it gently), Credit Suisse, NYSE Euronext, and so on.

In advance of this panel and in advance of proposed changes to the financial regulatory system, these players have been stepping up their lobbying efforts... Goldman Sachs in particular has been making its presence felt.

Last Friday I got a call from a Senate staffer who said that Goldman had just been in his boss’s office, lobbying against restrictions on naked short-selling. The aide said Goldman had passed out a fact sheet about the issue that was so ridiculous that one of the other staffers immediately thought to send it to me. When I went to actually get the document, though, the aide had had a change of heart.

Which was weird, and I thought the matter had ended there. But the exact same situation then repeated itself with another congressional staffer, who then actually passed me Goldman’s fact sheet.

Now, the mere fact that two different congressional aides were so disgusted by Goldman’s performance that they both called me on the same day — and I don’t have a relationship with either of these people — tells you how nauseated they were.

I would later hear that Senate aides between themselves had discussed Goldman’s lobbying efforts and concluded that it was one of the most shameless performances they’d ever seen from any group of lobbyists, and that the “fact sheet” ... was, to quote one person familiar with the situation, “disgraceful” and “hilarious.” ...
This post has been republished from Mark Thoma's blog, Economist's View.

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