Monday, September 29, 2008

Franklin Raines, Fannie/Freddie, and the Democrats

From Hot Air: Franklin Raines, former Clinton Budget Director, became CEO of Fannie Mae and was under some heavy grilling in 2004 by Republicans concerned that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not observing basic accounting rules, including those established by Sarbanes/Oxley in the aftermath of Enron's collapse.

Just watch and form your own conclusions, but my take is that this video could not be more devastating, even if we didn't have the heavy-handed text super-imposed on the video.

This is Through-the-Looking-Glass territory, with Republicans insisting on the need for reform and greater regulation, and the Democrats arguing everything is fine, and leave the markets alone. The problem is, the markets were not operating normally, they had been distorted by political pressure to offer lending to high-risk home loan recipients, something that Fannie and Freddie were then buying up, spreading the toxic debt of these future foreclosures throughout the entire financial system.

So Fannie and Freddie have now collapsed, precipitating the chain of events leading to the $700 billion bailout that the Congress is voting on today.

But don't worry about Mr. Raines! He came out just fine with a multi-million dollar pay package, according to his Wikipedia entry:
On December 21, 2004 Raines accepted what he called "early retirement" [4] from his position as CEO while U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigators continued to investigate alleged accounting irregularities. He is accused by The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), the regulating body of Fannie Mae, of abetting widespread accounting errors, which included the shifting of losses so senior executives, such as himself, could earn large bonuses [5].

In 2006, the OFHEO announced a suit against Raines in order to recover some or all of the $50 million in payments made to Raines based on the overstated earnings [6] initially estimated to be $9 billion but have been announced as 6.3 billion.[7].

Civil charges were filed against Raines and two other former executives by the OFHEO in which the OFHEO sought $110 million in penalties and $115 million in returned bonuses from the three accused.[8] On April 18, 2008, the government announced a settlement with Raines together with J. Timothy Howard, Fannie's former chief financial officer, and Leanne G. Spencer, Fannie's former controller. The three executives agreed to pay fines totaling about $3 million, which will be paid by Fannie's insurance policies. [ed. emphasis added] Raines also agreed to donate the proceeds from the sale of $1.8 million of his Fannie stock and to give up stock options. The stock options however have no value. Raines also gave up an estimated $5.3 million of "other benefits" said to be related to his pension and forgone bonuses.[9]

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal called it a "paltry settlement" which allowed Raines and the other two executives to "keep the bulk of their riches." [10] In 2003 alone, Raines's compensation was over $20 million.[11]
On July 16 of this year Ben Smith at Politico pointed out that Barack Obama has been calling Franklin Raines for advice on mortgage policy.

See also my earlier post on Senator Obama being the #2 recipient of all Fannie/Freddie political contributions over the last 20 years, just behind #1 recipient Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn), now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Update: For a highly opinionated take on things, Stanley Kurtz of the National Review writes in the NY Post that Obama's early community organizing affiliations with ACORN helped in the critical loosening of lending standards that has led to this mess:
... community organizers help to undermine the US economy by pushing the banking system into a sinkhole of bad loans. And Obama has spent years training and funding the organizers who do it.

The seeds of today's financial meltdown lie in the Community Reinvestment Act - a law passed in 1977 and made riskier by unwise amendments and regulatory rulings in later decades.

CRA was meant to encourage banks to make loans to high-risk borrowers, often minorities living in unstable neighborhoods. That has provided an opening to radical groups like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to abuse the law by forcing banks to make hundreds of millions of dollars in "subprime" loans to often uncreditworthy poor and minority customers.

Any bank that wants to expand or merge with another has to show it has complied with CRA - and approval can be held up by complaints filed by groups like ACORN.

In fact, intimidation tactics, public charges of racism and threats to use CRA to block business expansion have enabled ACORN to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and contributions from America's financial institutions.

Banks already overexposed by these shaky loans were pushed still further in the wrong direction when government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began buying up their bad loans and offering them for sale on world markets.
This, unfortunately, is precisely what is meant by the proverb "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

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