Wall Street Reform
Having passed the Dodd-Frank Act earlier this summer, the bill that aspires to reorder our financial universe in the wake of the most serious economic crisis in generations, Congress has moved on to other matters. Regulators are left to write the rules that will make financial reform a reality — or not — and are beginning that laborious process. ..
The question is this: Will regulators give Wall Street’s big dealers what they want in a second bite of the apple?
There is no doubt that regulating the freewheeling derivatives market is important work. If done right, heightened scrutiny could well eliminate the potential for another disastrous bank run like the one that threatened world markets in September 2008 when the American International Group imploded. The insurer had written insurance on mortgage securities— a derivative known as a credit default swap — and almost collapsed after, among other things, onerous collateral calls from its trading partners drained its cash...
“It is again going back to the battlefield, and this is a much more complicated battlefield...”
“There is going to be so much pressure from the biggest financial institutions not to have limits,” said Heather Slavkin, senior policy adviser of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Office of Investment and a participant in the Aug. 20 meeting. “Regulators are going to be very much focused on what types of swaps get cleared, so the governance and ownership aspects that are just as important may not get the attention they deserve.”
It's not over yet. We must continue to hold the regulators accountable and ensure that they follow both the letter and the spirit of the Wall Street Reform law.
We did it. We passed Wall Street Reform. Now, lenders are no longer rewarded for bad behavior:
It has become fashionable to blame profligate borrowers for the calamity. And there is no question that in the madness of the housing bubble, some people should never have sought mortgages or bought homes they clearly couldn’t afford. But the crisis was driven by Wall Street’s hunger for quick profits and its eagerness to buy mortgages and package them into securities. Banks, mortgage companies, brokers and appraisers all conspired to steer borrowers into loans with escalating interest rates, balloon payments and other conditions that made them highly prone to default.
The new law does not ban risky loans outright. It does establish several conditions that, if correctly implemented, should discourage lenders from issuing them.
Lenders must now take the common-sense precaution of documenting the borrower’s ability to pay. They can no longer penalize borrowers — eager to free themselves from subprime or other risky mortgages — for paying off the loans early. And lenders are forbidden to pay kickbacks — “yield spread premiums” — to brokers who push borrowers into costly, higher-interest loans.
If loans violate the law, borrowers will be able to stop a foreclosure and sue to recover damages. The risk of being hauled into court should persuade investors to look closer at the underlying loans to make sure that they conform with federal law.
These are all good, and desperately needed, reforms. Industry lobbyists, who do some of their best work in the rule-making phase, will work hard to water them down.
Consumer advocates are especially worried about how the Fed will formulate the rules that are supposed to stop lenders from steering creditworthy minority or female applicants into more expensive mortgages and end “wealth stripping,” under which lenders design loans that quickly rob homeowners of their equity.
Congressional leaders believe that the Fed was chastened by the crisis and will now do all that is needed to protect lenders. Given the agency’s long history of kowtowing to the banks, mortgage lenders and credit card companies, Congress will need to do more than trust. It will have to verify that the new rules finally give consumers — and the American economy — the strong, permanent protections they need.
It's time for the Fed to step up. And, if they don't, they must be held accountable.
...that's how much Wall Street spent trying to defeat and water down real reform.
The financial industry has spent $251 million on lobbying so far this year as lawmakers hammered out new rules of the road for Wall Street, according to the latest lobbying reports compiled by a watchdog group.
The financial sector spent more than any other special interest group from April through the end of June -- a whopping $126 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' latest estimates. Wall Street banks, as well as insurance and real estate firms, hiked the amount they spent on lobbying by 12% in the second quarter compared to the same period last year.
"Financial reform certainly drove Wall Street lobbying efforts," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "Even as the economy remains beaten and bruised, with some financial institutions continuing to struggle, most banks and securities houses found it in their budgets to hire lobbyists - and lots of them."
The usual suspects spent the most:
In the first half of 2010, Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) spent $2.7 million, just $100,000 shy of the total the firm spent on lobbying in all of 2009. The firm's reports to the federal government said it lobbied Treasury, White House and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as well as Congress.
Other banks also flexed their muscle on Capitol Hill this year. Citigroup Inc. (C, Fortune 500) spent $3 million and Bank of America Corp. (BAC, Fortune 500) spent $2.1 million on lobbying during the first half of this year, the Center for Responsive Politics reports.
Banking and financial lobbying groups are among the heavy hitters so far in 2010. The American Bankers Association (ABA) has spent $4.5 million and the Financial Services Roundtable has spent $4.2 million on lobbying so far this year, while the Securities Industry & Financial Market Association (SIFMA) has spent $2.8 million.
They tried their hardest, but, in the end, the power of people defeated Wall Street's millions.
The Los Angeles Times highlighted a little reported, yet critically important piece of Wall Street Reform:
Tucked in the massive bill is a provision that for the first time extends a concept long applied to government contracts to the private sector. It gives whistle-blowers a mandatory 10% — and as much as 30% — of what the government recoups in fines and settlements in financial fraud cases. These can include insider trading, false earnings reports and classic Ponzi schemes…
Some corporate lawyers say the bounty provisions are the most important but least noticed parts of the new law. They have been overshadowed by the focus on new regulations for banks and the new consumer protection agency.
Cash for whistle blowers. This provides an incentive for whistle blowers to expose corporate wrongdoing.
Today was an historic day.
We did it. Heather Booth of Americans for Financial Reform celebrates:
With his signature, President Obama ushers in a sea change after decades when the big banks were allowed to write their own rules, take advantage of consumers, and collect huge bonuses for themselves while leaving the rest of us to pay the costs of their recklessness. The financial reform legislation will empower consumers by putting an independent advocate on their side when it comes to buying homes and managing their credit. Banks and other financial institutions will no longer be allowed to gamble with our money for their profit, and risky investments will be forced out into the light of day. Families and businesses alike will benefit from increased transparency and security, and from pushing banks away from speculation and towards making sound loans.
We applaud the President and Congress for their leadership in guiding this legislation into law, a clear victory for Main Street. We look forward to ensuring that these strong reforms are implemented with all Americans in mind.
Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to work.