In exchange for receiving TARP money, financial institutions were required to hand over shares of preferred stock that paid a dividend for the government. In theory, if a financial institution paid the dividend faithfully, and then repaid the TARP money, then the government would turn a profit. Last month, the General Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, through June 12, 2009, the government had received $6.2 billion in dividend payments. The original TARP legislation required that money made from the program “shall be paid into the general fund of the Treasury for reduction of the public debt.”

But now Frank wants to spend the money before it can be used to pay down anything. First, the “TARP for Main Street” proposal would take $1 billion “from dividends paid by financial institutions that have received financial assistance provided under…the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act” and apply it to a trust fund that Frank has long wanted to create for low-income rental housing. (The measure, unfunded, was part of last year’s bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.) Next, Frank would take $1.5 billion from TARP dividends for a so-called “neighborhood stabilization” fund. Republican critics have charged that both measures might allow federal dollars to be distributed to activist groups like the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, or ACORN.