Federal Reserve Seeks to Protect U.S. Bailout Secrets (Update1)
(Bloomberg) -- By David Glovin and Thom Weidlich
The Federal Reserve asked a U.S. appeals court to block a ruling that for the first time would force the central bank to reveal secret identities of financial firms that might have collapsed without the largest government bailout in U.S. history.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan will decide whether the Fed must release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. In August, a federal judge ordered that the information be released, responding to a request by Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
“This case is about the identity of the borrower,” said Matthew Collette, a lawyer for the government, in oral arguments today. “This is the equivalent of saying ‘I want all the loan applications that were submitted.’”
Bloomberg argues that the public has the right to know basic information about the “unprecedented and highly controversial use” of public money. Banks and the Fed warn that bailed-out lenders may be hurt if the documents are made public, causing a run or a sell-off by investors. Disclosure may hamstring the Fed’s ability to deal with another crisis, they also argued. The lower court agreed with Bloomberg.
‘Right to Know’
“The question is at what point does the government get so involved in the life of the institution that the public has a right to know?” said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Davis isn’t involved in the lawsuit...
The Fed’s balance sheet debt doubled after lending standards were relaxed following Lehman’s failure on Sept. 15, 2008. That year, the Fed began extending credit directly to companies that weren’t banks for the first time since the 1930s. Total central bank lending exceeded $2 trillion for the first time on Nov. 6, 2008, reaching $2.14 trillion on Sept. 23, 2009.
The lawsuit, brought under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, came as President Barack Obama criticized the previous administration’s handling of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by Congress in October 2008. Obama has said funds were spent by the administration of former President George W. Bush with little accountability or transparency...MORE...LINK