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March 14, 2013

He Who Makes the Rules

“In late 2010, Bart Chilton, one of three Democratic commissioners at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), walked into an upper-floor suite of an executive office building to meet with four top muckety-mucks at one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

There were a handful of staff members present, but it was a pretty small gathering—one, it turns out, that Chilton would never forget.

The main topic Chilton hoped to discuss that day was the CFTC’s pending rule on what are known as “position limits.” If implemented properly, position limits would put a leash on speculation in the commodities market by making it harder for heavyweight traders at places like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to corner a market, make a killing for themselves, and screw up prices for the rest of us. Position limits are also one of many ways to tamp down the amount of risk big institutions can take on, which keeps them from going belly up and minimizes the chance taxpayers will have to bail them out.

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The Gauntlet, Stage 1: Asymmetric warfare in rule making

Public interest and consumer advocates tend to describe the fight over the rules of Dodd-Frank in martial terms. “It’s like World War II,” said Dennis Kelleher, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Better Markets. “There’s the Pacific theater, the Atlantic, the European, the African theater—we’re fighting on all fronts.” Former Senator Ted Kaufman, an outspoken advocate for financial reform, says it’s “more like guerrilla warfare.” The reformers are trying “to make it at the margins, but they’re totally outgunned,” he said.”

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Read full Washington Monthly article here

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