Ex-Lobbyist Confirmed to CFTC

Meet the newest addition to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If you’ve been reading Mother Jones recently, then you already know quite a bit about Scott O’Malia. Like the fact that he once worked as a top in-house lobbyist for an energy company, Mirant, that manipulated California’s market Enron-style. Or that, while on this company’s payroll, he lobbied against a bill to expand the CFTC’s authority to police derivatives. Or that the Senate Agriculture Committee, which reviewed his nomination, declined to ask him any specific questions about his pro-deregulation lobbying on not one but two occasions.

O’Malia and two other nominees were unanimously confirmed late Thursday. He will fill the seat vacated by Walter Lukken earlier this year, serving a five-year term that expires in April 2015. O’Malia’s tenure on the 5-member commission comes at a time when the Obama administration is pushing an ambitious financial reform overhaul, which, among other things, includes strengthening the historically toothless CFTC. During his recent confirmation hearing, O’Malia expressed [PDF] his commitment to bolstering oversight and said he would work to “ensure the CFTC uses all of its legal authorities to curb excessing speculation and prevent abusive trading practices, including fraud and manipulation.” Given his track record, there’s reason to be dubious. An energy analyst recently raised the theory that O’Malia’s nomination caused a rally in the oil market, with investors betting he’d reduce “the risk” the commission will take an aggressive stand on speculation.

It’s always possible that in the years following his stint at Mirant, O’Malia shifted his views on regulation and oversight. It’s possible that he’ll work to strengthen the rules his former company worked to undo. But if not, the Obama administration has succeeded in undermining its own agenda.

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  • Dan Schulman

    Daniel Schulman is Mother Jones' deputy Washington, DC, bureau chief. Reach him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com. Dan is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita, a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback.