Capital Markets

Bailout Transparency: Not So Much

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Nick Gillespie noted earlier today the escalating costs of D.C.'s bailout bonanza.

Just as troubling are early signs that the government has no interest in disclosing to taxpayers how it's spending the money.

Bloomberg reports:

The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

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The Bloomberg lawsuit argues that the collateral lists "are central to understanding and assessing the government's response to the most cataclysmic financial crisis in America since the Great Depression."

The Fed has lent at least $81 billion to American International Group Inc., the world's largest insurer, so that it can pay obligations to banks. AIG today said it received an expanded government rescue package valued at more than $150 billion.

The central bank is also responsible for losses on a $26.8 billion portfolio guaranteed after Bear Stearns Cos. was bought by JPMorgan.

"As a taxpayer, it is absolutely important that we know how they're lending money and who they're lending it to," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Arlington, Virginia- based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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The Fed's collateral "absolutely should be made public," said Mark Cuban, an activist investor, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team and the creator of the Web site BailoutSleuth.com, which focuses on the secrecy shrouding the Fed's moves. 

Back in September, I warned that no matter how bad the behavior on Wall Street, it's laughable to think the debt-saddled, asset-hiding federal government has the wherewithal to properly identify and fix the problem.

Prior posts on bailout transparency here and here.