While one may criticize now-ex CFTC commissioner Bart Chilton for years and years of sound and fury signifying nothing, countless promises of regulatory enforcement (all of which fell short of the target) and finally putting an end to precious metals manipulation only for the world to discover that while every other asset class is manipulated (involving such individuals as JPM’s chief currency dealer), gold and silver are exempt, one must admit the former regulator does have a way wtih words (and of course haircuts). Sure enough, Chilton’s most memorable parting gift will not be something he did, but rather what he said.
William Cohan memorializes his parting message: “As we long suspected, Wall Street continues to use every trick in its playbook to do whatever it can to eviscerate numerous post-financial-crisis rules. The arsenal includes high-powered lobbyists who outnumber lawmakers 10-to-1; $1,000-an-hour letter-writing lawyers who gain strength from negotiating over arcana; and the occasional hoodwinking of a president whose knowledge of the ways of finance are close to nil.”
Chilton’s take home message: “The lesson for me is: The financial sector is so powerful that they will roll things back over time,” Chilton says. “The Wall Street firms have tremendous influence, and they can impact policy to a greater degree than any one regulator or a small group of regulators can.”
Well, one sure can’t say that those 30 years he spent in Washington of which nearly 7 years at the CFTC were lost on the Alexander Godunov lookalike: at least he figured out who runs the show. Of course, finding a way how to prevent the financial sector from being in charge, i.e., doing his job, would have been preferable, but close enough for government work.
What are Chilton’s other laments? Why being underfunded of course. Because if the CFTC only had more money, all would have been fixed.
In fiscal 2013, for example, the CFTC requested funding of $308 million and got only $195 million ($10 million less than the previous year) despite many new responsibilities. “There are crooks who are getting away with crimes because we don’t have the resources to go after them,” Chilton says. The SEC has a similar discrepancy between its appropriation and what it needs to fulfill legal mandates.
With its regulators overwhelmed and underfunded, Wall Street firms then move to the relentless negotiation stage. “As you try to deal with the regulatory agency,” he says of Wall Street, “the first thing you do is you say, ‘Well, would you exempt us?’ And when that doesn’t work, you try to ameliorate your regulation.” If that strategy fails, the industry defaults to litigation.
Sounds like the generic justification anyone would make for failing at their job. But it could be just us.
Some more deep thoughts from Bart Chilton:
Chilton said he has noticed one additional tactic that Wall Street has been employing lately: stalling or thwarting nominees to regulatory agencies. The nomination of Timothy Massad, the U.S. Treasury Department official who managed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to replace Gary Gensler as CFTC chairman came late in the year and a confirmation vote has now been delayed, probably to February 2014. That means further Dodd-Frank rule-writing and enforcement could be delayed, too, because only two of five commissioners will be seated and they would both have to agree to get anything done. “It’s a gift to Wall Street,” he said. “This is what they’ve been trying to do. They’ve been trying to stop Dodd-Frank.”
Chilton knows why Wall Street always seems to win. Financial-industry executives contribute more money “in every election, than any other sector, and they have made more profits in every single quarter since the fall of 2008 when many of them helped crash the economy,” he explains. “So while the rest of the nation is suffering still, and trying to get a leg up to get out of the ditch, the financial sector didn’t miss a beat.”
In case you didn’t catch Chilton’s meaning, here is the shorter version: Unless and until Wall Street’s disproportionate ability to bully Washington is curtailed, the rest of us will be held hostage to its agenda. For those interested in the fuller version, Chilton has been writing a book. Its working title: “Theft.”
Oh, we caught Chilton’s meaning all right. What we are more interested in is how long after Theft is a monetary failure will the silver-haired regulator apply for a job at Goldman, JPMorgan or Citi. Because one thing we have learned observing Washington apparatchiks, is that in addition to sharing deep thoughts on occasions (if unmatched by actions), hypocrisy also happens to be a recurring theme.
For those who yearn for one last dose of Chilton’s deep thoughts, here is his most recent speech, “The Boss“, appropriately enough before the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, New York City. After all, the man has to get in with the publishing lobby next.