The Ex-Im bank solves its problems by disappearing its data

We’ve brought you plenty of coverage on the somewhat boringly wonky but still important story of the Ex-Im Bank. Facing mounting criticism over its practices which essentially identify it as a crony capitalism slush fund which wastes taxpayer dollars, the institution’s directors clearly had to take action. And what’s the best way to answer the journalists who are examining your records and finding fault? Obviously, you make the records disappear.

Critics of the Export-Import Bank are seething over the removal from a government Web site of previously public data earlier they say helps them detect cronyism.

Between January 29 and February 13, officials at the bank removed disclosures listing businesses that applied for financing at the bank but were denied, a source at the bank told The Hill.

“During a regular quarterly review, it was decided to reformat the way data is presented,” the source said. Under the changes, bank officials are no longer disclosing denied applicants.

But critics of the Ex-Im, created to help U.S. companies finance overseas endeavors, say that information helps illuminate how the bank chooses which businesses to finance.

At Redstate, our colleague Leon Wolf has a long and helpful analysis of just how awful this particular public relations move was. He begins by explaining at least one of the main problems with the Ex-Im Bank and its practices.

For those who don’t know, the Ex-Im bank is a program that is intended to finance American investments overseas. The specific criticism of the bank is that it acts as crony capitalist clearing house that helps to pick winners and losers in the market by approving cheap loans to politically well connected companies and denying them to others. The Bank’s opponents have attacked the bank by pointing out the disparate treatments that apparently similar companies have gotten from the bank when they applied for loans.

Leaving aside for the moment the current debacle underway at Ex-Im, I will at least partially disagree with Leon, though he is largely correct. The actual purpose of the bank – as I read it – isn’t to fund American investments overseas, although that is one practical upshot of it. The real structure of its activities is geared towards arranging loans for overseas customers which ostensibly make it easier for them to import American products, thereby increasing our exports. Also, the underlying problem with the bank is actually that it has long since stopped serving its stated purpose, since the vast majority of benefits seen from the bank’s activities go to Boeing, a company which is not really in need of that much help. But Leon is again correct in identifying one of the major areas of fallout from the free hand that Ex-Im has in its activities, that being the power to pick winners and losers, depending on who they choose to support.

The big issue today, though, is this seemingly brain-dead decision to suddenly just yank all their process data once people started looking at it. Wolf continues:

Here’s a tip for whoever is running PR for the Ex-Im Bank – if it makes you look bad when people are sifting through your data, the proper response is not to very publicly try to bury all your data from public view. That makes you look not only guilty as hell but also actively crooked, as opposed to merely coincidentally crooked.

Exactly correct. Perhaps a government agency can get away with a bit of coincidental crookedness in the modern era since they would pretty much blend in with the majority of other government agencies. But once a taxpayer funded government institution starts yanking their previously public records we’ve crossed the Rubicon of corrupt (or at least massively suspicious) behavior. Taking these records out of the public eye brings the Ex-Im bank right down to the same level as Lois Lerner trying to explain how the dog ate all of her emails.

We have yet to have a full, transparent hearing in Congress on the activities of the Ex-Im bank before any extension of their charter is approved. And until the questions above – along with many, many others – are answered, there should be no such approval.

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