Suppressing the News: The Real Cost of the Wall Street Bailout

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No one really knows what a politician will do once elected. George “No New Taxes” Bush (George I to us commoners) was neither the first nor will he be the last politician to lie to the public in order to get elected.  It takes increasing amounts of money to get elected. Total spending by Presidential candidates in 1988 was $210.7 million; in 2000 it was $343.1 million and in 2008, presidential candidates spent $1.3 billion. Even without adjusting for inflation, it’s pretty obvious that it takes A LOT MORE MONEY now. For those readers who are from the Show Me state, $210.7 million in 1988 is equivalent to roughly one-third of the buying power used by Presidential Candidates in 2008.

When Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry told Iowan voters in early November, “I happen to think Wall Street and Washington, D.C., have been in bed together way too long,” it made headlines for Reuters and ABC . But that’s not news; that’s advertising. News, according to Sir Harold Evans, is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress. News Flash: The average member of Congress who voted in favor of the 2008 Bank Bailout received 51 percent more campaign money from Wall Street than those who voted no – Republicans and Democrats alike. That’s according to research by Center for Responsive Politics and was reported as news by the OpenSecrets.org blog on September 29, 2008.

In other news fit to be suppressed, the Federal Reserve "provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world." This was revealed in an audit of the Federal Reserve released in July 2011 by the Government Accountability Office. All the goods and services produced in the United States in the last twelve months are worth about $14 trillion – Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner spent more than that to bailout Wall Street in twelve months! This is news, news that Bloomberg and Fox Business Network had to file lawsuits to get access to and that Bernanke and Geithner want to suppress.

The answer to the differences in the value of the bailouts – it was “only $1.2 trillion” according to Bernanke – can be found in the GAO’s audits.  The latest audit of the TARP, released November 10, 2011 makes it clear: “In valuing TARP …, [Office of Financial Stability] management considered and selected assumptions and data that it believed provided a reasonable basis for the estimated subsidy costs …. However, these assumptions and estimates are inherently subject to substantial uncertainty arising from the likelihood of future changes in general economic, regulatory, and market conditions.” [emphasis added]. TARP is under Treasury – which is run by Geithner – and is headed up by Timothy Massad, formerly of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York …[still following this?]…, who represents Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc. as underwriters for (among other things) European public debt. Cravath, Swaine & Moore advised Citigroup on their repayment of TARP funds and Merrill Lynch in their orchestrated takeover by Bank of America.

The dispute about the cost of the bailout is not the stuff of conspiracy theories. This is basic finance and economics,  not accounting. In accounting, debits and credits balance at the end of the day; in finance, you get to assume rates of return, costs of capital, etc., etc. – a lot of stuff that has much room for judgment. It is in the area of judgment that Bernanke and Geithner are able to make their numbers look smaller than those added up by Bloomberg and Fox. The GAO, on the other hand, should have no dog in this fight and therefore should (we live and hope) give us the right stuff to work with. GAO says (in a nice way) that Geithner has been fiddling with the numbers.

The GAO had been recommending to Congress that they get audit authority over the Federal Reserve System at least since 1973. They finally got that authority in the Wall Street Reform Act of 2010 – about the only piece of that legislation that has so far resulted in anything of substance. The Center for Responsive politics also did an analysis of the campaign contributions for Senators who opposed the financial regulatory reform bill in 2010. Those opposing the reforms got 65 percent more money from Wall Street banks than those voting for the bill.

For politicians, it doesn’t matter who votes for them. They will figure out what they need to say to get the money to get the votes to get elected. What they need most – and what makes them Wall Streetwalkers – is the money. The big donors don’t care who they give to, as long as the one they give to gets elected. According to Federal Election Commission data, Warren Buffett gives money almost exclusively to Democrats; Donald Trump likes to spread it around between the parties, as do Goldman Sachs employees. But that’s only the money that can be traced back to a source, unlike the opaque donations given to PACs and SuperPACs.

The revolving door between Wall Street and Washington swings both ways. When John Corzine departed Goldman Sachs he left Hank Paulson in charge in 1999. Investment Dealers’ Digest reported that Corzine left Goldman “against a backdrop of fixed-income trading losses.” Corzine won a Senate seat in 2000 (D-NJ).  He was then elected Governor of New Jersey in November 2005, where he put forth Bradley Abelow for state Treasurer. Abelow worked with Corzine at Goldman and was a former Board member at the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, the world’s largest self-regulatory financial institution. Together, Corzine and Abelow later went on to run MF Global into bankruptcy. Both have been invited back to Washington, the first time a former Congressman has been called to testify before a Congressional Committee. Wherever they get started, Washington and Wall Street tend to end up in bed together.

It’s this kind of knowledge that makes me question why I should vote at all. Congressmen from both parties are generally for sale. Even with self-described liberals in Congress, right-wing conservatives could get approval for everything they want – free-for-all-banking and the US military engaged in active combat.  It’s the taxpayers – the mothers, fathers and families of service men – who suffer. Sure, Barack Obama took more money from Wall Street than John McCain – but it was only $2 million more, hardly enough to run one ad campaign in a big state.

Then I pause and remember what my mentor, Rose Kaufman, from the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica told me: if you don’t vote, you open the door for someone to take away your right to vote.  The benefit of living in a democracy with freedom of the press is that you can find out all those things that Washington and Wall Street “want to suppress.” Whether or not we have good choices among the presidential candidates, we have choices.  It’s better than nothing.

Susanne Trimbath, Ph.D. is CEO and Chief Economist of STP Advisory Services. Her training in finance and economics began with editing briefing documents for the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She worked in operations at depository trust and clearing corporations in San Francisco and New York, including Depository Trust Company, a subsidiary of DTCC; formerly, she was a Senior Research Economist studying capital markets at the Milken Institute. Her PhD in economics is from New York University. In addition to teaching economics and finance at New York University and University of Southern California (Marshall School of Business), Trimbath is co-author of Beyond Junk Bonds: Expanding High Yield Markets. She participated in an Infrastructure Index Project Workshop Series throughout 2010.

Follow Susanne on Twitter @SusanneTrimbath

Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department



















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worst form of government...except for all the others

It is discouraging that we find ourselves with politicans that essentially represent big finance and big oil. These interests have crafted two brands for us - Red Sauce or Blue Sauce - hoping we will be content with this choice.

We will have to churn through a lot of human capital to ultimately get representation back in the hands of the citizens. Voting is a much better alternative than nearly anything else. It's a shame we have let things get to this point, but now that we have recognized it, it is most critical that we get on with the business of re-creating our political democracy once again.

Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP
Adjunct Professor, Rollins College
2011 President, Orlando AIA