Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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Scott Brown: Truck or Wall St. Limo?

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 9:50 AM EDT

Americans for Financial Reform, a group putting the heat on Republicans for blocking the Senate's Wall St. overhaul, has a new ad out today in the Boston area targeting Scott Brown, the junior senator from Massachusetts who won the late Ted Kennedy's former seat and took away the Democrats' senate 60-vote supermajority. In the past two days, Brown has twice voted against beginning full debate on the Senate floor on the financial regulatory bill, joining GOPers in stalling an inevitable vote on reform. In the ad, AFR highlights the fact that the financial services industry was a major donor for Brown (the finance, insurance, and real estate, or FIRE, sector was the largest giver to Brown's campaign at $972,800, according to the Center for Responsive Politics), and says, "The Wall Street banks got their money's worth with Senator Brown and bonus checks are no doubt in the mail."

Here's the ad in its entirety:

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GOP Blocks Finance Debate Again

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 5:06 PM EDT

Senate Republicans blocked the second vote in less than 24 hours to begin debate on financial reform. The cloture vote lost 57-41, with centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) again voting with Republicans to prevent the full debate on the Senate floor. That surely means Nelson still hasn't restored the derivatives provision to the bill that's backed by Warren Buffett, the business guru who heads Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway. The provision would have exempted existing derivatives contracts, of which Berkshire has tens of billions, from posting additional cash or securities as collateral. 

The Senate is slated to vote again to begin debate as early as tomorrow, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ratchets up the political pressure to cast GOPers as in bed with Wall Street. However, it's unclear when any breakthroughs will occur, as Senate Republicans have said they want more concessions from Democrats on issues like a new consumer protection agency and new regulations on too-big-to-fail banks. For now, the talks continue to stay behind closed doors. That will continue to frustrate Democrats who want to drag the debate into the light of day, where they hope the ties between Republicans and Big Finance will be more apparent to the public and will give financial reform the momentum to reach the finish line.

Nelson's Top Donor? Buffett's Berkshire

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 1:54 PM EDT

If there was any lingering doubt about why Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted against opening the debate on financial reform, the identity of Nelson's top donor—Omaha-based financial company Berkshire Hathaway, led by guru Warren Buffett—should provide some clue. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top givers to Nelson's campaigns are the political action committee and  employees of the highly profitable Berkshire Hathaway, who have given Nelson $75,550 throughout his Senate career. Nelson and his wife, the Omaha World-Herald reports, also own between $1.5 and $6 million in Berkshire stock, financial disclosure forms show. Only five members of Congress have more than $100,000 in Berkshire stock.

Nelson's "No" vote yesterday was attributed to his ties to Berkshire. Nelson had been a top backer in Congress of a provision in the bill that would've exempted the owners of existing derivatives contracts from offering up additional cash or collateral—a requirement that will be imposed on future deals if the finance bill, as it looks now, became law. Lobbying hard for that provision was Buffett, who opposed having to post collateral on Berkshire's existing derivatives deals, a condition he called unconstitutional. However, that Buffett-backed provision was killed yesterday, and soon afterwards Nelson cast his vote against beginning debate on financial reform.

Nelson told the World-Herald that he wanted the exemption in the bill mainly because it was good policy, and he was joined by Nebraska's junior senator, Mike Johanns, who also voted "No" on cloture yesterday. Nebraska's Republican chairman saw it differently, calling Nelson's vote "Yet another backroom deal being orchestrated by Sen. Ben Nelson." There's been no word yet whether that exemption has been put back into the bill. Nelson and his colleagues will return to the Senate floor today at 4:30 pm for another vote on whether to begin full debate on financial reform. 

Goldman Brass Denies Shorting Housing Market

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

All seven Goldman Sachs executives and staffers testifying before the Senate investigations subcommittee today will say they never actively "shorted," or outright bet against, the US housing market in 2007 and 2008, according to their prepared remarks. They all say their investments that profited from the subprime mortgage meltdown, and later the housing collapse, were merely hedges against risk on their books and countering "long" investments, those that would profit if the housing market's gains continued. "The fact is we were not consistently or significantly net 'short the market' in residential mortgage-related products in 2007 and 2008," Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein will testify today.

Goldman's stance is directly at odds with that of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate investigations subcommittee. Levin said in his opening remarks today that Goldman wasn't merely getting "closer to home," or reaching a neutral point where long and short risk balanced out. To the contrary, Levin said Goldman "blew right past a neutral position on the mortgage market and began betting heavily on its decline, often using complex financial instruments, including synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs...It was what one top executive described as 'the big short.'"

Goldman Trader Fires Back at SEC

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 9:42 AM EDT

Fabrice Tourre, the Goldman Sachs trader at the heart of the Securities and Exchange Commission's blockbuster lawsuit, will outright reject the SEC's allegations that he misled Goldman clients and committed securities fraud in a 2007 mortgage-related transaction, according to prepared remarks for a Senate hearing on Tuesday. The SEC's suit alleges that Tourre and Goldman let a hedge fund trader betting heavily against the mortgage markets, John Paulson, pick the bonds underlying a complex product peddled by Goldman called a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO). More importantly, the suit says Tourre failed to disclose to the CDO's two investors—an American institutional investor named ACA and German bank IKB—that Paulson had picked the bonds, which were of such poor quality that they were essentially rigged to fail. (The SEC said 83 percent of the bonds in the deal had been downgraded six months later by rating agencies, and 99 percent had been downgraded a year later.)

Testifying before the Senate investigations subcommittee Tuesday, Tourre will reject the notion that Paulson, who made $3.7 billion in 2007 by betting against the housing market, picked the bonds. Instead, Tourre will say Paulson had input, but that ACA "ultimately analyzed and approved every security in the deal." He adds, "ACA had sole authority to decide what securities would be referenced in the transaction, and it does not dispute that point... If ACA was confused about Paulson's role in the transaction, it had every opportunity to clarify the issue."

Tourre, set to face a barrage of questions during Tuesday's hearing, concludes his remarks by defending himself in the deal, one of several dozen deals called Abacus. "I wish to repeat—I did not mislead IKB or ACA, two of the most sophisticated investors in these products in the world," he will say.

 

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