John McCain got another newspaper to accept his op-ed writings today, this time in Florida and on the subject of the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout. He writes that he reluctantly agrees that Congress has to ensure that the two don’t cause an economic collapse, but that any such plan has to envision the end of any ties to the government — and he’s particularly incensed about their lobbying efforts while those ties exist. And McCain reminds people that he warned about the potential for this failure two years ago:
Fannie and Freddie buy home loans from lending institutions and reissue them as marketable securities — creating a liquid market for mortgage debt that lowers borrowing costs for prospective homeowners. The two institutions have easy access to borrow at low interest rates because they were originally government agencies and continue to be viewed as being backed by the government. The irony is that by bailing them out, Congress is about to make that perception a reality, even though government backing is no longer needed for their original mission. There are lots of banks, savings and loans, and other financial institutions that can do this job.
Fannie and Freddie are the poster children for a lack of transparency and accountability. Fannie Mae employees deliberately manipulated financial reports to trigger bonuses for senior executives. Freddie Mac manipulated its earnings by $5-billion. They’ve misled us about their accounting, and now they are endangering financial markets. More than two years ago, I said: “If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose.” Fannie and Freddie’s lobbyists succeeded; Congress failed to act. They’ve stayed in business, grown, and profited mightily by showering money on lobbyists and favors on the Washington establishment. Now the bill has come due.
What should be done? We are stuck with the reality that they have grown so large that we must support Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the current rough spell. But if a dime of taxpayer money ends up being directly invested, the management and the board should immediately be replaced, multimillion dollar salaries should be cut, and bonuses and other compensation should be eliminated. They should cease all lobbying activities and drop all payments to outside lobbyists. And taxpayers should be first in line for any repayments.
Even with those terms, sticking Main Street Americans with Wall Street’s bill is a shame on Washington. If elected, I’ll continue my crusade for the right reform of the institutions: making them go away. I will get real regulation that limits their ability to borrow, shrinks their size until they are no longer a threat to our economy, and privatizes and eliminates their links to the government.
The Washington Post recently published a piece on just how extensive those lobbying efforts went. They have deep ties within both parties, and unsurprisingly, within both campaigns:
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, was president of the Homeownership Alliance, which advocates the expansion of homeownership through low-interest mortgages funded by Fannie and Freddie. Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., who is heading McCain’s vice presidential vetting panel, was a lobbyist for Fannie Mae. Mark Buse, a longtime McCain aide, lobbied for Freddie Mac before returning to McCain’s Senate staff.
And the list of Republican Fannie and Freddie lobbyists includes some of its most notable rogues — including Tony Rudy, Edwin Buckham, Kevin Ring and David H. Safavian, all of whom were linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal — as well as some of its leading power brokers, from Reagan White House chief of staff Kenneth M. Duberstein to uberlobbyists Vin Weber and Tom Korologos. Alberto R. Cardenas, one of McCain’s top fundraisers, has lobbied for Fannie Mae, as have former Montana governor Marc Racicot and tax-cut advocate Grover Norquist.
Obama also has ties to the firms. James A. Johnson, the former head of his vice presidential vetting panel, was a chief executive of Fannie Mae, as was Franklin D. Raines, who said this week that he has been consulting with the campaign on housing issues. Maria Echaveste, a top Clinton White House official whose husband, Christopher Edley Jr., is a close Obama friend and adviser, has lobbied for Freddie Mac, and former commerce secretary William M. Daley, a top Obama backer, was an in-house lobbyist.
Other Democratic luminaries who have advocated for the mortgage giants include strategist Steven Elmendorf, Rep. Doris Matsui (Calif.), former Al Gore aide Ronald A. Klain, former Clinton aide Steve Ricchetti and former congressman Harold E. Ford Jr. (Tenn.), now the head of the Democratic Leadership Council. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, was also vice chairman of Fannie Mae.
That payroll has cost Fannie and Freddie nearly $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions over the past decade, according to lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission disclosures. It has also won them plenty of protection from calls for greater regulation, less federal protection, and even nationalization.
That certainly explains the lack of enthusiasm on Capitol Hill to make government completely independent of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and it underscores how difficult it will be for either Obama or McCain to make the necessary changes. McCain’s prescription looks and sounds the best, but will either party want to cut itself off from the hundreds of millions of dollars that these behemoths spend in protecting their turf?
If Congress sticks us with the bill, McCain’s proposal should be the benchmark for conditions on the bailout. Better not to do it at all — but if it’s necessary, then neither company should be allowed to spend any money on lobbyists, and all executive perks should be canceled. Until the taxpayers get their money back, the two firms should be prohibited from any lobbying activity at all, and after stability returns to the market, the government should wipe their hands of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.