Tag Archives: lobbying

Bipartisan Trouble Ahead

By Simon Johnson

In Washington today, “bipartisan” is a loaded term. The traditional usage of bipartisan is an agreement across the usual political divide – sometimes a good idea and in many cases the only way to get things done. But a darker meaning applies all too frequently – a group in which the members, irrespective of party affiliation, are very close to special interests and work to advance an agenda that helps a few powerful people while hurting the rest of us.

Financial deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s was pushed by both Democrats and Republicans. It reached its apogee when Alan Greenspan, a Republican, was chairman of the Federal Reserve and Robert Rubin, a Democrat, was Treasury secretary. Bill Clinton was president; Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House.

This is probably why President Obama and Mitt Romney shied away this fall from the issue of who was responsible for the financial crisis that brought us the deep recession and slow recovery of the last five years. Both political parties share culpability for allowing parts of the financial sector to take excessive risk while financing themselves with a great deal of debt and relatively little equity.

In this context, the new Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative of the Bipartisan Policy Center seems eerily familiar. Continue reading

Barney Frank Does the Right Thing

By James Kwak

The revolving door between business and government is something that Simon and I have criticized, most recently in a book you may have heard us mention once or twice. Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post reports that Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has sent a message that he is serious about blocking the revolving door.

Peter Roberson was a lobbyist for the Bond Market Association (now part of SIFMA, a big securities industry lobbying organization) from 2000 to 2006 before becoming a staff member for Frank’s committee, where he was recently working on derivatives legislation. When Frank found out he was in discussions with ICE (presumably, the exchange), it sounds like Frank fired him and blocked him from lobbying the committee so long as he is chair:

“Several people have expressed criticism of the move by Peter Roberson from the staff of the Financial Services Committee to ICE, after he worked on the legislation relevant to derivatives. I completely agree with that criticism. When Mr. Roberson was hired, it never occurred to me that he would jump so quickly from the Committee staff to an industry that was being affected by the Committee’s legislation. When he called me to tell me that he was in conversations with them, I told him that I was disappointed and that I insisted that he take no further action as a member of the Committee staff. I then called the Staff Director and instructed her to remove him from the payroll and provide him only such compensation as is already owed.”

Now, it is well understood that one of the main reasons to work for a committee like Financial Services is precisely because it enables you to get better paying jobs in industry later. So I don’t know if it’s possible to block the revolving door completely. But this seems like a step in the right direction.

Good for You, Barney

With the waves of criticism that come out of this website, I wanted to acknowledge someone for doing the right thing. Bloomberg reports that Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, barred Michael Paese, a former committee staff member and now Goldman Sachs lobbyist, from lobbying anyone on the Democratic side of the committee until the end of 2010. Paese was already barred from lobbying his old committee for one year after he left the staff in September 2008, so Frank is effectively extending the ban for another year and a bit.

The government-lobbyist revolving door has been around for a long time, and a one-year prohibition is just not long enough; it shifts the incentives too far to the side of using government service as a way to build friendly contacts in industry. Conceptually, I think the ban should be longer and pay for government employees should go up, in order to push the incentives the other way. But I’m not holding my breath.

By James Kwak

How To Buy Friends And Alienate People

The banking industry is exceeding all expectations.  The biggest players are raking in profits and planning much higher compensation so far this year, on the back of increased market share (wouldn’t you like two of your major competitors to go out of business?).  And banks in general are managing to project widely a completely negative attitude towards all attempts to protect consumers.

This is a dangerous combination for the industry, yet it is not being handled well.  Just look at the current strategy of the American Bankers’ Association. Continue reading