Like so many others, our Better Markets team has dispersed and adapted. It can be clunky at times, but we are continuing to do all of our pre-coronavirus work while also doing a substantial amount of new work arising from coronavirus-related activities.
I wanted to share with you some of the work we’ve been doing. Unfortunately, reflecting their deregulatory zeal, the financial regulators have mostly refused to suspend all non-coronavirus rulemaking and activities. Adding insult to injury, they have also refused to toll the comment periods and other deadlines, although some have informally provided limited extensions. While much of that rulemaking was unwarranted and unwise before the pandemic hit, it is senseless and downright dangerous now.
As a result, we are working on upcoming responses to proposals at the CFTC, SEC, CFPB and at the banking agencies in addition to the new coronavirus-related work. That increased workload can be grouped into five broad buckets:
- We are now monitoring and tracking all the COVID-19 related actions of the financial regulators. That spans everything from temporary relief, exemptions and no action letters to the many emergency funding programs and vehicles created by the Fed to respond to the chokepoints and stress fractures in the financial system. We continue to proactively advocate for them to couple their emergency measures with customer, investor, taxpayer and systemic protections. For example, when we saw that thousands of Wells Fargo’s customers were shut out of CARES Act relief, we called on the Federal Reserve to temporarily suspend the asset cap imposed on the bank so it could help its many customers in dire need. We said, however, any such suspension must be temporary, limited, ringfenced and automatically expire at the end of the emergency; we also advocated for Wells Fargo to provide that assistance at cost or for no cost. That is what the Fed did, ten days later, as reported here.
- We are also deeply engaged in the legislative responses, both those already enacted and the many, disparate actions that are being considered for the future. As you know, we don’t lobby, so we’re not taking positions for or against any legislation, but we do provide expertise in banking, securities, derivatives, commodities as well as the economy and financial system more broadly. That expertise is being called on from every direction, including, for example, on money market funds.
- We are also proactively proposing large scale economic programs which are designed to take the macro-stress off the financial system and, thereby, prevent another financial crisis if not crash. Our most recent efforts have been trying to get people focusing on what to do next, when the inevitable shortfalls of the CARES Act materialize: “The U.S. needs a coronavirus rescue Plan B – fast.”
- We also spend an enormous amount of time and resources responding to and reaching out to the media to ensure that the coverage of what is happening, particularly at the financial regulatory agencies, is accurate, fair and balanced. Given how much is happening so fast, the media demands on us are difficult to keep up with, including, for example, ten interviews in just one day with the following media outlets: the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, Politico and others. For example, here is a recent article in MarketWatch discussing private equity and the CARES Act, which has been a very heated debate with irresponsible companies with extreme leverage working furiously to get taxpayer money meant for Main Street’s small businesses
- Finally, we continue to closely watch the financial industries’ activities, particularly their very powerful trade groups and lobbyists. While some have admirably stepped forward to genuinely help many individuals and businesses impacted by the pandemic, and we have applauded them, too many in the industry are nonetheless too often using the crisis as a pretext for their longstanding wish list for deregulation and other special interests. We are on the watch for that, calling attention to it and highlighting it, and pushing back, which we have had to do since as long ago as March 2 when they first shamelessly tried to do it.
Overall, we continue to be a real-time counterweight to Wall Streets’ biggest firms and their political and lobbying might throughout the policy-making process in Washington. Their “wealth-extraction” agenda has not changed, and we continue to push government agencies to protect the public interest and promote a broad-based “wealth-creation” agenda. Through it all, we fight to get finance back into the business of supporting the productive economy, jobs and economic growth, which will be needed more than ever as we first survive and then revive from the coronavirus-caused economic shutdown.