JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon will appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about his bank’s risk management, or lack thereof—how was it that a too-big-to-fail institution took dangerous gambles that recently resulted in multibillion-dollar losses?
But there are deeper questions likely to come up as well. One is why Dimon is allowed to sit on the New York Federal Reserve’s board of directors, along with several other titans of finance. At the twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks, there are nine-member boards of directors. Six of the seats are selected by banks from the region—although, somewhat hilariously, the banks are supposed to pick three directors to represent their interests, and then three directors to represent “the public’s interest.”
But if the job of the Federal Reserve is to maintain the safety and soundness of Wall Street banks—a task often at odds with the banks’ short-term, greed-driven motives—why are the heads of those institutions allowed to be a part of it at all?
Some new data released Tuesday by Senator Bernie Sanders puts this inherent conflict of interest in sharp relief. Sanders revealed, for the first time, detailed information about which bank executives benefited from Fed actions during the financial crisis, and how much they got.
The Dodd-Frank legislation, thanks to a provision inserted by Sanders, required the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to study these conflicts of interest at the Fed and issue a report. It did so in October, issuing a detailed study which found that allowing members of the banking industry be on the Federal Reserve’s board of directors creates “an appearance of a conflict of interest” and poses “reputational risks” to the Federal Reserve System.
The GAO laid out several conflicts of interest, but was not required to name specific institutions—but that’s what Sanders released today. He found that during the crisis, at least $4 trillion in zero-interest Federal Reserve loans went to the banks of at least eighteen current and former Federal Reserve regional bank directors.
JPMorgan got a quite a few handouts from the Fed while Dimon sat on the board of directors, Sanders notes. It received $390 billion in emergency Fed funds while it was being used as a clearinghouse for emergency lending programs. It got $29 billion to acquire Bear Stearns, and got an eighteen-month exemption from risk-based leverage and capital requirements. JP Morgan also got the Fed to take risky assets off the Bear Stearns balance sheets before it was acquired.
One might argue that these actions would have been taken anyhow—to, for example, help repair the damage Bear Stearns was causing financial markets. And every major financial institution received money from the Fed at some point during the crisis. But it’s incredibly hard to argue Dimon and others should have seats at the Fed while it’s negotiating these goodies with their banks.
Among the other conflicts revealed by Sanders’s report:
Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, served on the New York Fed’s Board of Directors from 2006‐11. General Electric received $16 billion in low-interest financing from the Federal Reserve’s Commercial Paper Funding Facility during this time period.
In 2008, the New York Fed approved an application from Goldman Sachs to become a bank holding company, giving it access to cheap Fed loans. During the same period, Stephen Friedman, who was chairman of the New York Fed at the time, sat on the Goldman Sachs board of directors and owned Goldman stock, something the Fed’s rules prohibited. He received a waiver in late 2008 that was not made public. After Friedman received the waiver, he continued to purchase stock in Goldman from November 2008 through January of 2009 unbeknownst to the Fed, according to the GAO.
Sanford Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup, served on the Fed’s board of directors in New York in 2006. During the financial crisis, Citigroup received over $2.5 trillion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
James M. Wells, the chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks, has served on the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta since 2008. During the financial crisis, SunTrust received $7.5 billion in total financial assistance from the Fed.
James Rohr, the chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, served on the Fed’s board of directors in Cleveland from 2008–10. PNC received $6.5 billion in low-interest loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
The full report is here.
Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer have introduced legislation that would end these conflicts of interest by prohibiting anyone who works for, or even invests in, companies that are eligible for aid from the Federal Reserve from sitting on a board of directors. Sanders singled out Dimon when announcing his legislation late last month. “How do you sit on a board, which approves $390 billion of low-interest loans to yourself?” Sanders said. “Who in America thinks that makes sense?”
Sanders also spoke to MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Tuesday afternoon about the conflicts: