Weekly Audit: Republicans Filibuster Our Financial Future

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Last night, Senate Republicans proved beyond any doubt that when it comes to the economy, they stand with Wall Street and against everybody else. Joined by lone Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Republicans successfully filibustered the procedural technicality of opening debate on Wall Street reform. It’s an unmistakable ploy to kill the bill and collect campaign cash from bigwig bankers. The coming weeks won’t be pretty.

Republicans are going to be battered by this filibuster. Financial reform is popular, and nobody on Capitol Hill wants to be seen as the agents of Wall Street in Washington come November. Republicans are hoping to rhetorically counter Obama’s proposals, negotiate a fatally weakened reform package, and then vote with Democrats for reform-in-name-only before the elections. But the U.S. financial system is broken and voters know it needs strong medicine.

In a speech last week before Cooper Union Hall in New York City, Obama laid out what’s at stake in the reform fight. Our biggest banks don’t fear failure because they know the government will bail them out in a crisis. As a result, they take massive risks that endanger the economy. Our current regulators ignored predatory lending in order to protect Wall Street profits. To top it off, the risky, multi-trillion-dollar market for derivatives—the financial weapons of mass destruction that brought down AIG—remains beyond the scope of regulatory authority altogether.

Without major changes, the U.S. economy is doomed to repeat the destruction of the past two years. Epic bailouts, consumer predation and heavy job losses will become the new national norm, not just the conditions of a single, terrible crisis. Last night’s Republican-plus-Nelson filibuster was an effort to preserve an unacceptable status quo.

Phony populism

As Matthew Rothschild emphasizes in a podcast for The Progressive, Wall Street Republicans have been spreading all kinds of crazy lies about Obama’s reform legislation. While the legislation that cleared the Senate Banking Committee in March isn’t perfect, it isn’t a massive bailout for Wall Street, either. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been making the rounds calling it just that, in a dishonest effort to kill the bill. This is phony populism. McConnell says he’s against bailouts, but his goal is to prevent reform from overturning the current system, which, as we saw in 2008, has bailouts baked in.

While Obama did a good job identifying what’s wrong on Wall Street, the solutions he proposed are either too weak to end abuses, or simply not included in the Wall Street reform bill in its current form. Obama’s initial proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency was great, but Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) watered down in the Senate Banking Committee to appease Republicans. The same thing happened to Obama’s proposal to fix the wild market for derivatives, the financial weapons of mass destruction that brought down AIG.

How to make reform a reality

As Sarah Ludwig of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Program (NEDAP) emphasizes in an interview with GRITtv’s Laura Flanders, most of the reforms currently under consideration are a “good first step.” That is to say they are useful and productive—but not enough to fundamentally change the way Wall Street does business.

Fortunately, there are several amendments that can fix these shortcomings, most notably the SAFE Banking Act, introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE). As Peter Rothberg emphasizes for The Nation, the amendment would force our largest banks to split up into institutions that could fail without jeopardizing the broader economy. It would also place a hard cap on the total amount that banks could bet in the financial markets.

Those amendments, of course, can only be added to the bill if Republicans allow debate on financial reform to begin. Progressives should be fighting hard to make sure that the break-up-the-banks measure is included in the bill that the Senate eventually votes on. And as Rothberg notes, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so this week. Protests calling for Major Wall Street reform have been organized all over the country. On Tuesday, protesters will speak out against predatory banking behemoth Wells Fargo in San Francisco. On Wednesday, they will target too-big-to-fail titan Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C. On Thursday, reformers will march straight into the lion’s den on Wall Street itself to demand change. It’s called the Showdown in America, and you can find out more here.

It’s only just begun—but how did we get here in the first place?

But whatever happens with this bill, the fight to rein in Wall Street is just beginning. As Robert Kuttner emphasizes for AlterNet, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had no shortage of verve for Wall Street reform, but it still took him seven years to enact all of the New Deal banking laws. And as Simon Johnson and James Kwak detail for The American Prospect, reining in Wall Street means overturning the ideology that has dominated the halls of power in Washington, D.C. for three decades.

Since the Reagan era, politicians from both political parties have sincerely believed that what is good for Wall Street is good for America. The subprime mortgage monstrosity and Great Crash of 2008 put cracks in the foundation of that ideology. But the process of demolishing it may very well take longer than the legislative cycle that will end with the November elections.

Even if we do get a strong bill—one that breaks up the biggest banks, bans them from placing risky bets in the derivatives and securities markets and establishes a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency—other important aspects of the financial sector will need to be addressed in other legislation. Hedge funds, whose pivotal role in the crisis is only now being identified, will need to be reined in. Rating agencies, who actively fueled the subprime bubble, and whose business models are founded on conflicts of interest, must be restructured. The future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must be decided. Families across the country still need foreclosure relief.

We need a strong Wall Street reform bill. There is no excuse for any politician from either party to be standing with bigwig bankers against the rest of the country. And with two-thirds of the nation supporting reform, any political party that throws in its lot with Wall Street will pay a major price come November. No amount of Wall Street campaign cash can counter the voter outrage over bank bailouts and bonuses. There’s no way to know when Republicans will come to their senses, but whatever happens this week, there will still be much work to do this year and the next.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

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