Geithner, as Member and Overseer, Forged Ties to Finance Club

By Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson

 

An examination of Mr. Geithner’s five years as president of the New York Fed, an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry, shows that he forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions. His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records. The top echelon of the Treasury Department is a common destination for financiers, and Mr. Geithner has also recruited aides from Wall Street, some from firms that were at the heart of the crisis. For instance, his chief of staff, Mark A. Patterson, is a former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, and one of his top counselors is Lewis S. Alexander, a former chief economist at Citigroup. A bill sent recently by the Treasury to Capitol Hill would give the Obama administration extensive new powers to inject money into or seize systemically important firms in danger of failure. It was drafted in large measure by Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law firm that represents many banks and the financial industry’s lobbying group. Mr. Geithner also hired Davis Polk to represent the New York Fed during the A.I.G. bailout. Treasury officials say they inadvertently used a copy of Davis Polk’s draft sent to them by the Federal Reserve as a template for their own bill, with the result that the proposed legislation Treasury sent to Capitol Hill bore the law firm’s computer footprints. And they point to several significant changes to that draft that “better protect the taxpayer,” in the words of Andrew Williams, a Treasury spokesman. But others say important provisions in the original industry bill remain. Most significant, the bill does not require that any government rescue of a troubled firm be done at the lowest possible cost, as is required by the F.D.I.C. when it takes over a failed bank. Treasury officials said that is because they would use the rescue powers only in rare and extreme cases that might require flexibility. Karen Shaw Petrou, managing director of the Washington research firm Federal Financial Analytics, said it essentially gives Treasury “a blank check.”

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