Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rahm, we barely know ya

It occurs to me that one of the most powerful men in the US (at least in the public sphere) is Rahm Emanuel. I first became aware of him when he was in charge of distributing cash to Democratic contenders for Congress in 2006, when he both feuded with Howard Dean and snubbed anti-war candidates—thus, in my opinion, turning what could have been a huge landslide for Democrats into a moderate one. It's no secret that he was a big-time war hawk and proponent of the Iraq War. I did not know, however, what he had been doing before that.

Thus, I turn to Wikipedia:

. . .

Emanuel was encouraged by his mother to take ballet lessons as a boy and is a graduate of the Evanston School of Ballet. He won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet but turned it down to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school with a strong dance program. He graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts, and went on to receive an M.A. in Speech and Communication from Northwestern University in 1985. While still an undergraduate, he joined the congressional campaign of David Robinson of Chicago.[14] In the first Gulf War, Emanuel served with the Israel Defense Forces as a civilian volunteer helping to maintain equipment.[15]

Career in finance

After serving as an advisor to Bill Clinton, in 1998 Emanuel resigned from his position in the Clinton administration and became an investment banker at Wasserstein Perella (now Dresdner Kleinwort), where he worked until 2002.[29] In 1999, he became a managing director at the firm’s Chicago office. Emanuel made $16.2 million in his two-and-a-half-year stint as a banker, according to Congressional disclosures.[29][30] At Wasserstein Perella, he worked on eight deals, including the acquisition by Commonwealth Edison of Peco Energy and the purchase by GTCR Golder Rauner of the SecurityLink home security unit from SBC Communications.[29]

Emanuel was named to the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac") by then President Bill Clinton in 2000. His position earned him at least $320,000, including later stock sales.[31][32] He was not assigned to any of the board's working committees, and the Board met no more than six times per year.[32]

During his time on the board, Freddie Mac was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and accounting irregularities.[32][33] The Obama Administration rejected a request under the Freedom of Information Act to review Freddie Mac board minutes and correspondence during Emanuel's time as a director.[32]

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) later accused the board of having "failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention." Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001 when he ran for Congress.[34]

So, follow along with me here. We see a guy with experience (in ballet, liberal arts, speech and communications, and as an Israeli Defense Repairman) becoming an investment banker for a few years, for which he makes $16.2 million. In the process we see him working on a deal that put together Exelon, the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the country, just as the artificial "gas crisis" is building in California. At the same time he found himself making at least $320,000 sitting on the board of directors of Freddie Mac, which subsequently found itself embroiled in a series of scandals while it made a series of risky investments that resulted in it's collapse last year.
Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for Emanuel, said there was no conflict between his stint at Freddie Mac and Obama's vow to restore confidence in financial institutions and the executives who run them. At the same time, Feinberg said Emanuel now agrees that presidential appointees to the Freddie Mac board "are unnecessary and don't have long enough terms to make a difference."
. . .

In an interview, Falcon said the Freddie Mac board did most of its work in committees. Yet proxy statements that detailed committee assignments showed none for Emanuel, Free or Ickes during the time they served in 2000 or 2001. Most other directors carried two committee assignments each.

Contrary to the proxy statements, Feinberg said she believed that Emanuel served on board committees that oversaw Freddie Mac's investment strategies and mortgage purchase activities. But Feinberg acknowledged she had no official documents to back up that assertion.

The Obama administration rejected a Tribune request under the Freedom of Information Act to review Freddie Mac board minutes and correspondence during Emanuel's time as a director. The documents, obtained by Falcon for his investigation, were "commercial information" exempt from disclosure, according to a lawyer for the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Emanuel's board term expired in May 2001, and soon after he launched his Democratic congressional bid.

One of Emanuel's fellow directors at Freddie Mac was Neil Hartigan, the former Illinois attorney general. Hartigan said Emanuel's primary contribution was explaining to others on the board how to play the levers of power.

He was respected on the board for his understanding of "the dynamics of the legislative process and the executive branch at senior levels," Hartigan recalled. "I wouldn't say he was outspoken. What he was, was solid."

By the time Emanuel joined Freddie Mac, the company had begun to loosen lending standards and buy riskier sub-prime loans. It was a practice that later blew up and contributed to the current foreclosure crisis.

In his investigation, Falcon concluded that the board of directors on which Emanuel sat was so pliant that Freddie Mac's managers easily were able to massage company ledgers. They manipulated bookkeeping to smooth out volatility, perpetuating Freddie Mac's industry reputation as "Steady Freddie," a reliable producer of earnings growth. Wall Street liked what it saw, Freddie Mac's stock value soared and top executives collected their bonuses.

That's Emanuel's own spokeperson saying she thought he served on committees that oversaw investments in the very time period when investments were made that led to Freddie Mac's downfall... and yet there is no record of him being on those committees... and the adminstration refuses to allow FOA requests for documents that pertain to such things.

For an interesting googling time, try checking out the links in that Emanuel Wikipedia piece. PECO Energy (largest owner of nuclear power plants in the US.) And GTCR:

The company was founded in 1980 as Golder Thoma & Co. by Stanley Golder and Carl Thoma. In the 1970s, Golder built the private equity program at First Chicago Corp.[2] where he is noted primarily for backing Federal Express and for efforts as chairman of the National Venture Capital Association and the National Association of Small Business Investment Companies to change federal laws allowing pensions to invest in private equity.[3][4]

" change federal laws allowing pensions to invest in private equity." This sounds like one of the roots of the present financial meltdown, the reason banks had to be bailed out: gambles made with pension funds.

I think this Googling Expedition could continue indefinitely... but I have to go to sleep....

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