Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ProPublica: Don’t Hold Your Breath for Real Financial ReformMonday, 19 Nov 2012 07:54 AM
By John Morgan

If you think President Barack Obama is going to crack down on Wall Street in his second term, you would probably be wrong, according to an analysis by ProPublica.

The non-profit investigative journalism project noted the Obama administration has installed tougher financial regulators, and with activists such as newly minted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., now in place, the pace of new bureaucratic rules should speed up now with the election over.

But there is apparently an array of institutional obstacles in the way of real reform.
“While the rule making will speed up, the core problems with the financial system and its regulators are deeper than personnel and sadly impervious to which party occupies the White House,” ProPublica asserted. “They are bipartisan and structural.”

As an example of “bipartisan cowardice and ineptitude,” ProPublica cited the failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), even under Obama-appointed Chairwoman Mary Schapiro, to find a way to prevent money market funds from being able to hide their risks. In that instance, a Democratic commissioner joined Republicans in proposing more study of the topic, resulting in a report that called for yet more study.

The structural issues are also profound, ProPublica said. It noted the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the SEC still exist as two separate agencies, despite the intent of Dodd-Frank legislation. The CFTC is overseen by the Senate Agriculture Committee, while the SEC falls under the Senate Banking Committee, so merging the two agencies would mean loss of power by one of the Senate committees.

“One of the biggest weaknesses of Dodd-Frank is that we failed to look long and hard at true independence of regulators,” said one frustrated Senate staffer who worked on the legislation.

As a result, ProPublica said oversight of credit default swaps is split by the CFTC and the SEC, meaning half of a swap trade can be regulated by one agency, and the other half by the second agency. And it noted the Volcker Rule, a key Dodd-Frank component to prevent banks from making risky proprietary trades, is still not finalized after two and a half years of multiple-agency negotiations.

ProPublica concluded: “Dodd-Frank is so sweeping in its scope yet so picayune in its application that it will be close to impossible for the public to tell whether it’s making a difference.”

However, Forbes reported that Dodd-Frank is more popular that Obamacare, according to a Gallup poll, which could make it more difficult for lobbyists to seriously dilute its provisions.

Similarly, a post-election Reuters analysis concluded that Wall Street firms, having gambled and lost on Mitt Romney, might be well-advised to build better ties to Obama and his coterie of financial regulators.

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