Monday, June 8, 2009

Politics and Accounting

This article, from an anti globalization rabble-rouser, does contain some interesting stuff.

The Obama administration’s good offices have encouraged the big banks to launch a multi-front offensive to block any measures that would limit their profit-making, and to weaken already existing regulations.

Last February, for example, financial firms and banking organizations launched a multi-million-dollar lobbying drive to change mark-to-market accounting rules that forced banks to report losses or write-downs totaling $175 billion in 2008. Mark-to-market essentially requires banks to value their assets according to prevailing market prices. The banks have balked at this standard, demanding instead the right to assign their own values to their bad debts, using "internal models."

With the aid of $286,000 in campaign donations to the 33 members of a key House subcommittee, the Fair Value Coalition, the lobby group set up by the banks, succeeded in getting the industry rule-making body, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, to give the banks immense latitude in suspending mark-to-market rules.

The Wall Street Journal on June 3 published an investigative report detailing the banks’ use of campaign fund monies to get their way. The Journal reported that the banking coalition spent a total of $27.6 million in the first quarter of 2009 on its lobbying effort.

It focused its drive on a House Financial Services subcommittee chaired by Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat. Kanjorski received $18,500 from Fair Value Coalition members in the first quarter. Over the past two years, Kanjorski has received $704,000 in contributions from banking and insurance companies, the third-highest among members of Congress.

Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Financial Services Committee, received $8,500 from the coalition.

Kanjorski and other recipients of the bankers’ largess from both parties grilled the head of FASB, Robert Herz, at a committee hearing on March 12, demanding that he expedite a review of mark-to-market rules and threatening him with a bill to broaden government oversight of his board if he failed to comply.

Herz got the message, and on April 12, in advance of the stress test results and early enough to enable the banks to pad their first-quarter financial reports, FASB announced the changes demanded by the lawmakers.

According to the Journal, the American Bankers Association was the biggest contributor to the campaign funds of committee members in the weeks before the March 12 hearing. The newspaper quotes ABA President Edward Yingling as boasting, "We worked that hearing. We told people that the hearing should be used to talk about the big problems with ‘mark to market,’ and you had 20 straight members of Congress, one after another, turn to FASB and say, ‘Fix it.’"

The Journal notes: "The change helped turn around investor sentiment on banks.... Wells Fargo & Co. said the change increased its capital by $4.4 billion in the first quarter. Citigroup Inc. said the change added $413 million to first-quarter earnings." The newspaper cites a tax and accounting analyst, who estimates that the accounting changes will increase bank earnings in the second quarter by an average of 7 percent.

The Journal quotes Lynn Turner, the former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former FASB member, as saying "he doesn’t think the banking industry will be satisfied until mark to market accounting is dismantled completely. ‘Despite efforts by FASB to give ground to the banks, enough is never enough, he says."

1 comment:

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