Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What the banks’ three-year war on Dodd-Frank looks like

A fascinating account from the Sunlight Foundation of the gutting of a regulatory initiative by the kind of methodical persistence that can only be sustained by special interest groups with much to be gained from weak regulation:
In the three years since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, federal regulators charged with implementing it have opened their doors to the biggest banks over and over again – 14 times as frequently as they have to representatives of consumer and pro-financial reform groups, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis finds. 
By most accounts, the banks’ besiege-the-regulators strategy has yielded rich rewards in sapping, slowing, and stymieing regulations intended to prevent another massive financial crisis. The emerging consensus is that Dodd-Frank implementation is limping, while the big banks are poised to return to being the most profitable industry in the U.S.
The website feature an interactive showing the number of meetings by sector over the three years; you can mouse over the dots to see their identities. Is it any surprise that the Giant Vampire Squid is at the top with a whopping 222 meetings, followed closely by JP Morgan with 207? Each of these giants independently dwarfs the entire "pro-reform" group, that tiny cluster of dots on the other end of the graph.

Here's a chart depicting meetings by sector over time:

From the discussion:
In the 152 weeks our data cover, we find 59 weeks in which regulators met with financial sector representatives at least once every single day (Monday through Friday), and 47 weeks in which they met with financial sector representatives at least four times. 
... By contrast, active pro-reform groups appeared in only 153 meetings logs – only about one meeting for every 14 regulators held with financial institutions and associations. Moreover, 24.2 percent of pro-reform group meetings took place on a single issue: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 
...Law and lobbying firms, largely working in service of financial institutions, appeared in 707 meetings. Other, non-financial corporate interests, largely energy and agricultural companies, participated in 381 meetings. These companies are major purchasers of derivative contracts, which they use to hedge against price risk.
Imagine you're a regulator. 3,000 meetings with finance industry lobbyists, lawyers, and other corporate interests over three years, each one doing their best to explain why you should undermine the law as written in some tiny way. Would you not want to tear your hair out? Quit in despair? Or just give in to the soothing balm of lobbyist favor? What could possibly be left of the law after this barrage? Meanwhile the anti-regulation crowd has worked very diligently to kill Dodd-Frank's provisions in other ways, such as the lawsuit against the corporate tax transparency provisions sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.

Sunlight catalogues the delays and dismantling of Dodd Frank that has been accomplished by all this lobbying and litigating and concludes:
...Collectively, the data offer a powerful testament to the oldest and still perhaps most effective technique in the lobbyist’s playbook: sheer persistence. As the Dodd-Frank law passes its third anniversary, lagging on deadlines, and increasingly defanged, the meetings log data offer a compelling reason why: the banks have overwhelmed the regulators. 
Lobbying pays, and it pays whether it is done before, during, or after legislation has been passed. This represents a major governance crisis with no redress anywhere to be found.

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