The Shock Doctrine

Disaster Capitalism in Action: oversight

SEC to Examine Boards' Role in Financial Crisis

Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post, February 20, 2009

"Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro plans to look into whether the boards of banks and other financial firms conducted effective oversight leading up to the financial crisis, according to SEC officials, part of efforts to intensify scrutiny of the top levels of management and give new powers to shareholders to shape boards.

"As she examines what went wrong, Schapiro is also considering asking boards to disclose more about directors' backgrounds and skills, specifically how much they know about managing risk, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no policy initiative has been launched....

"The boards signed off on the risks the companies took and the compensation packages awarded to top executives. But many corporate watchdogs say the boards of top financial firms had characteristics that promoted risky business practices and harmed shareholders....

"Watchdogs point to flawed boards at many firms -- including Countrywide, American International Group and Wachovia -- involved in the crisis. [Nell] Minow points out that at Bear Stearns, the compensation committee had nine criteria to decide on the chief executive's compensation, such as total return to shareholders and earnings per share. But in the end, it could choose to award the maximum compensation to the chief executive based on only one of the criteria."


By Switching Their Charters, Banks Skirt Supervision

Binyamin Appelbaum, Washington Post, January 22, 2009

"At least 30 banks since 2000 have escaped federal regulatory action by walking away from their federal regulators and moving under state supervision, taking advantage of a long-standing system that allows banks to choose between federal and state oversight, according to a Washington Post review of government records. The moves, known as charter conversions, highlight the tremendous leverage that banks hold in their relationships with government supervisors.

"Since 2000, about 240 banks have converted from federal to state charters. Regulators and bank executives say many of those institutions simply wanted to save money. While national charters allow banks to operate more easily across state lines, state charters are cheaper. State regulators also advertise their accessibility and say they better understand local conditions and concerns.

"But the pursuit of leniency is an important undercurrent. About 12 percent of the banks that moved to state charters escaped federal regulatory actions, and experts on bank oversight say such cases are the tip of a broader pattern. They note that some banks convert in anticipation of a public enforcement action, or after persuading federal regulators to terminate an action....

"'The whole framework of our system was set up at a different time in American history, and it's really much more a matter of history than logic,' said Eugene Ludwig, who served during the 1990s as Comptroller of the Currency, the chief regulator for national banks."


Bailed Out Banks Give $1.6 Billion to Executives

Frank Bass and Rita Beamish, Associated Press, December 22, 2008

"Banks that have their hands out in Washington this year were handing out multimillion-dollar rewards to their executives last year. The 116 banks that so far have received taxpayer dollars to boost them through the economic crisis gave their top tier of executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and other benefits in 2007, an Associated Press analysis found.

"That amount, spread among the 600 highest paid bank executives, would cover the bailout money given to several banks that have shared in the $188 billion that Washington has doled out in rescue packages so far.

"Some banks trimmed their executive compensation in the face of faltering performance that foreshadowed the current economic crisis, but they still granted multimillion-dollar packages. Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found."


Banks Refuse to Publicly Disclose How Bailout Money is Being Spent

Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press, December 22, 2008

"'We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, "Here's how we're doing it," said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. 'We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to.'

"The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings, and what's the plan for the rest? None of the banks provided specific answers....

"No bank provided even the most basic accounting for the federal money. 'We're choosing not to disclose that,' said Kevin Heine, spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon, which received about $3 billion....Heine, the New York Mellon Corp. spokesman who said he wouldn't share spending specifics, added: 'I just would prefer if you wouldn't say that we're not going to discuss those details.'"


Senator: Executive Pay Limits in Bailout "Are All but Gone"

Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, December 15, 2008

"Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules. But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.

"Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far from the rescue package, nor does it plan to use them in the future. Lawmakers and legal experts say the change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives. 'The flimsy executive-compensation restrictions in the original bill are now all but gone,' said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), ranking Republican on of the Senate Finance Committee....

"Congressional leaders are also concerned that the Treasury might simply choose not to enforce the rules or be unwilling to impose financial penalties that could further weaken a firm and send the economy deeper into a tailspin."


Bailout Lacks Oversight Despite Billions Pledged

Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, November 13, 2008

"The Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package. Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.

"'It's a mess,' said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department's inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. 'I don't think anyone understands right now how we're going to do proper oversight of this thing.'"

Jacket Cover