Sen. Chris Dodd’s so-called “sweeping overhaul of the U.S. financial system” creates a Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which is supposed to be “a new, independent consumer watchdog.” You just know there’s a “but” coming here, right? Right:
“…the legislation would impose significant limits on the autonomy of the new watchdog. It would establish a Financial Stability Oversight Council [with veto power over the bureau] of nine members, all but one of whom would be existing financial regulators such as the Treasury Secretary and Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks.”
In just one example, let’s take a look at what those “existing regulators” and the now-Treasury Secretary were doing in the case of Lehman Brothers, as revealed in the report by the examiner of Lehman’s bankruptcy. While management at Lehman was engaging in Enron-stlye accounting, where were the federal regulators? Looking on:
“One crucial move was to shift assets off its books at the end of each quarter in exchange for cash through a clever accounting maneuver…to make its leverage [debt] levels look lower than they were. Then they would bring the assets back onto its balance sheet days after issuing its earnings report.
And where was the government while all this “materially misleading” accounting was going on? In the vernacular of teenage instant messaging, let’s just say they had a vantage point as good as POS (parent over shoulder).”
What’s worse is that “there is no evidence that Lehman kept two sets of books or tried to hide what it was doing from regulators.” Among the spectators:
“The NY Fed, the regulatory agency led by then FRBNY President Geithner [which] stood by while Lehman deceived the public through a scheme that FRBNY officials likened to a “three card monte routine.”
The FRBNY knew that Lehman was engaged in smoke and mirrors designed to overstate its liquidity and, therefore, was unwilling to lend as much money to Lehman. The FRBNY did not, however, inform the SEC, the public, or the OTS (which regulated an S&L that Lehman owned) of what should have been viewed by all as ongoing misrepresentations.”
So much for the “watchdog” capabilities of existing regulators and the Treasury Secretary. What about the other named mentioned, the Comptroller of the Currency. That would be John Dugan, a name not many are familiar with, but who was called in an article in The Nation last December, “one of the earliest architects of the too big to fail economy”:
“Too big to fail banks were a ticking time bomb, but they might not have ravaged the global economy in 2008 without major shortcomings in consumer protection over the previous five years. As head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Dugan played a leading role in gutting the consumer protection system, allowing big banks to take outrageous risks on the predatory mortgages that led to millions of foreclosures.
“For years, the OCC has had the power and the responsibility to protect both banks and consumers, and it has consistently thrown the consumer under the bus,” says Harvard University Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.”
Consumer Financial Protection? Sounds more like Wall Street Financial Protection to me.