WASHINGTON, D.C.— Dennis Kelleher, Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Better Markets, released the following statement in connection with the press conference today by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve:
Chairman Powell’s answers and non-answers at today’s press conference regarding the trading by the Dallas and Boston regional Fed presidents can only be characterized as “see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” That is totally inappropriate for the country’s central bank and will only further erode the public’s trust and confidence in the Fed and its Chairman.
The Chairman’s refusal to answer key questions at today’s press conference raised very serious issues about his leadership. For example, he did not answer when asked if the trading by these regional Presidents was “appropriate” or if they violated the Fed’s Code of Conduct requirement to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. That stonewalling sends a terrible and demoralizing message to the staff of the Fed while undermining its credibility with the biggest Wall Street banks the Fed is supposed to supervise and regulate. After all, such profit-seeking trading by Fed leaders to enrich themselves occurred (1) in the middle of a historic pandemic, (2) when in possession of material nonpublic information, (3) when the Fed had all hands on deck working overtime to prevent the collapse of the economy, (4) when the Fed was injecting $4+ trillion dollars into virtually every financial market, (5) when hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying and (6) when tens of millions of Americans were being thrown out of work and facing economic catastrophe. If that trading wasn’t “inappropriate” or didn’t at least create an “appearance of a conflict of interest,” then the Fed’s ethics and standards are beyond low and its Code of Conduct is worthless.
A leader would have said “Yes. Their trading was grossly inappropriate, showed horrible judgment, and violated the Code if not the law. The American people deserve better.” He would have then held them accountable for their actions by insisting they resign or be fired. Rather than setting clear high standards like that, Chair Powell chose to dodge the questions and not answer.
His actual answers also raised other serious questions. First, he said that the Code has “served us well in the past,” but he is ignoring the fact that the former President of the Richmond Fed flagrantly violated the Code in leaking highly sensitive information to a hedge fund and then apparently misleading the Fed’s own internal investigation into that leak. When discovered by the FBI in 2017, that should have been a red flag to the Chairman that the Code and compliance with the Code, including by regional Presidents like Kaplan and Rosengren, needed to be thoroughly reviewed. He is also ignoring the fact that 2020 was not like all other times in the past and the unprecedented circumstances of 2020 required special requirements. Second, he said the Fed’s Code was similar to other government agencies and, therefore, suggesting it was appropriate and adequate. But he is ignoring the fact that the Fed is not like other agencies. Its information is some of the most confidential market-sensitive financial and economic information in the entire government, which was particularly true in 2020, and he should have taken action to ensure that ethics and compliance were prioritized. Third, he apparently thinks that calling for a thorough review of the Code and changing it for the future somehow addresses the past pandemic profiteering trading by these Presidents when one has little to do with the other. The same is true for his statement that he was “reluctant to get ahead of that process” when that process is forward-looking and irrelevant to their past conduct. Frankly, as the leader of the Fed, his job is to get ahead of the process, set the highest standards, and enforce them, all of which he chose not to do.
If the Chairman wants, as he said, “to look back years from now and know the Fed rose to the challenge” presented by this outrageous conduct, and if he wants to restore and deserve the trust of the American people, then he needs to,
(1) condemn the pandemic trading;
(2) insist that these two regional Fed presidents resign or be fired;
(3) fully disclose all Fed officials and staff who traded while in possession of material nonpublic information during the pandemic;
(4) disclose all documents related to anyone seeking approval for such trading;
(5) request the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Fed’s Inspector General conduct comprehensive independent investigations to determine if any laws were broken by any of this trading, and, yes
(6) engage in a thorough review of the Code and make any necessary changes.
Better Markets is a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization founded to promote the public interest in the financial markets, support the financial reform of Wall Street and make our financial system work for all Americans again. Better Markets works with allies – including many in finance – to promote pro-market, pro-business and pro-growth policies that help build a stronger, safer financial system that protects and promotes Americans’ jobs, savings, retirements and more. To learn more, visit www.bettermarkets.com.