If nothing else, this will remind everyone of the risks associated with government bailouts. In principle, they sound like a good idea in a time of crisis. In practice, however, the incentives to use them as slush funds for the well-connected are just too darned tasty to pass up. Case in point — Hunter Biden’s profit off of a bailout program his father was heavily promoting, as the Washington Examiner reported this morning.
The Cayman Islands tax dodge is just the icing on the swampy cake:
An investment firm linked to Hunter Biden received over $130 million in federal bailout loans while his father Joe Biden was vice president and routed profits through a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands, according to federal banking and corporate records reviewed by the Washington Examiner.
Financial experts said the offshore corporate structure could have been used to shield earnings from United States taxes.
Rosemont Capital, an investment firm at the center of Hunter Biden’s much-scrutinized financial network, was one of the companies approved to participate in the 2009 federal loan program known as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF.
Hoo boy. This has everything a scandal needs except for the sex. Oh, wait …
TALF was the follow-on to the more well-known Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a program launched by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. While TARP aimed to stabilize the overall banking and finance sectors in regard to mortgages, TARF ostensibly targeted the consumer-lending markets by indemnifying the purchase of collapsed bonds. Paulson started TARF in late November 2008 with a reserve of $200 billion in government-guaranteed loans to investors willing to put up some of their own cash to deal with the bad assets in consumer credit lending.
It only got to spend $43 billion, however, because Congress started getting suspicious of just how those loan decisions were made. Eight years ago, Matt Taibbi reported for Rolling Stone on $220 million that went to spouses of well-connected Wall Street investors, which was emblematic of suspicions about the crony-capitalism operation of TARF.
“This is what welfare for the rich looks like,” Taibbi wrote at the time:
But if you want to get a true sense of what the “shadow budget” is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall’s haul doesn’t seem all that huge — just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches.
Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley’s investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences. Yet the Federal Reserve handed them both low-interest loans of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars through a complicated bailout program that virtually guaranteed them millions in risk-free income.
The technical name of the program that Mack and Karches took advantage of is TALF, short for Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility. But the federal aid they received actually falls under a broader category of bailout initiatives, designed and perfected by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, called “giving already stinking rich people gobs of money for no f***ing reason at all.” If you want to learn how the shadow budget works, follow along. This is what welfare for the rich looks like. …
A key aspect of TALF is that the Fed doles out the money through what are known as non-recourse loans. Essentially, this means that if you don’t pay the Fed back, it’s no big deal. The mechanism works like this: Hedge Fund Goon borrows, say, $100 million from the Fed to buy crappy loans, which are then transferred to the Fed as collateral. If Hedge Fund Goon decides not to repay that $100 million, the Fed simply keeps its pile of crappy securities and calls everything even.
This is the deal of a lifetime. Think about it: You borrow millions, buy a bunch of crap securities and stash them on the Fed’s books. If the securities lose money, you leave them on the Fed’s lap and the public eats the loss. But if they make money, you take them back, cash them in and repay the funds you borrowed from the Fed. “Remember that crazy guy in the commercials who ran around covered in dollar bills shouting, ‘The government is giving out free money!’ ” says Black. “As crazy as he was, this is making it real.”
It’s also what welfare for the politically connected in Washington looks like. At the same time TARF was making Mack and Karches even more rich than ever, Hunter Biden was bellying up to the same government trough:
Biden, Heinz, and Archer incorporated Rosemont Seneca Partners in Delaware on June 25, 2009. The “alternative investment and market advisory firm” was an offshoot of Rosemont Capital, which held a 50% stake in the new venture. Rosemont Seneca and Rosemont Capital shared the same office address in lower Manhattan and the same New York phone number, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents. Three weeks after Rosemont Seneca was incorporated, a subsidiary of Rosemont Capital called Rosemont TALF SPV, received $23.5 million in federal loans through the TALF program. This included $13.4 million to invest in student loans and $11.1 million to invest in subprime auto loans. Over five months, the company received a total of $130 million from the program in multiple installments for investments in subprime credit cards and residential mortgages.
And let’s not forget that it was Rosemont Seneca Partners that scored in China when Joe Biden was directing policy there, too. It didn’t take TALF to make bank off Biden père.
Was TALF a good idea in theory? Perhaps, but only in theory. The lending markets had gotten distorted through previous government interventions, creating riskier and riskier lending situations that only took a short recession to trigger into a catastrophic financial collapse. Government had tried to pick winners in lending markets and either incentivized or outright mandated lenders to ignore common risk factors, as well as preventing them from pricing the risk with realistic interest rates.
But at least that process of picking winners didn’t involve picking cronies and nepotism. TALF clearly did the latter. Even if it was necessary to clear the dead assets out, it would have been better to absorb them outright and then to unwind them later rather than set up slush funds for contributors’ spouses and ne’er-do-well establishment scions. That’s one reason why Congress pushed back hard enough on TALF to shut it down and to force the Fed to open its books on both TALF and TARP.
The question now is what Joe Biden’s political opponents will make of this. Bernie Sanders’ team was vocally aghast at the TALF revelations in 2011, saying that “our jaws are literally dropping as we’re reading this. Every one of these transactions is outrageous.” Will Sanders and Warren raise this as an attack on Biden’s integrity? If they don’t, others lower in the polls might, especially Kamala Harris, whose fortunes initially rose with a momentarily effective attack on Biden.
If they don’t raise this issue in the primaries and Biden wins the nomination, Democrats had better brace for the general-election attacks Team Trump will levy constantly and consistently over this. They will argue that Biden and Obama sold out America by using the bailout funds to paper the nests of family and friends … and it certainly appears that’s precisely what happened.
Addendum: Oh, and Ukraine wants Hunter Biden to repay $16.5 million back as part of the corruption linked to Burisma and its oligarch owner Mykola Zlochevsky. Biden might still have some of those TALF assets handy …