Competitive Power Ventures (CPV), an energy company behind nine planned or operational natural gas power plants across the US and Canada, has faced strident local opposition to several of its east coast projects. Proposed plants in New York and Connecticut have highlighted how CPV uses political influence, including the hiring of well-connected lobbyists and political operators, to override opposition to the projects. In New York, construction of CPV’s Valley natural gas plant continues, though Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered state agencies to suspend all communication and regulatory proceedings with CPV amid a federal law enforcement investigation of the company’s dealings with a top Cuomo aide.
Behind CPV are Wall Street interests – including alumni of Credit Suisse and General Electric – that have invested in the company through a private equity firm called Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). This post highlights the private equity backers seeking profit from CPV’s business. Future posts will explore how CPV has pushed its gas projects forward, even in the face of grassroots protest and carbon reduction goals.
A single example will illustrate the vicious circle of control–the endless chain–through which our financial oligarchy now operates:
J.P. Morgan (or a partner), a director of the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad, causes that company to sell to J.P. Morgan & Co. an issue of bonds. J.P. Morgan & Co. borrow the money with which to pay for the bonds from the Guaranty Trust Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. J.P. Morgan & Co. sell the bonds to the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The New Haven spends the proceeds of the bonds in purchasing steel rails from the United States Steel Corporation, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The United States Steel Corporation spends the proceeds of the rails in purchasing electrical supplies from the General Electric Company, of which Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director. The General Electric sells supplies to the Western Union Telegraph Company, a subsidiary of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company; and in both Mr. Morgan (or a partner) is a director…
– from Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, published by Louis Brandeis in 1914
The “endless chain” of power elite relationships that we track on LittleSis can be challenging to represent in the space of a paragraph. Reading through a list of relationships is often a confusing and mind-numbing exercise; writing such a list can have a similar effect on the author. It is, however, extremely important that we find effective methods of representing these relationships and informing the public about them. Stories of power, corruption, and undue influence revolve around relationships and networks, and exposing this information can have significant policy impact.
If you caught the news sometime this fall, you probably know the story of New York City’s changing of the guard. Populist de Blasio replaces billionaire Bloomberg as mayor. Wall St. already misses its buddy Mike. Economic inequality: watch out!
So why is de Blasio surrounding himself with a cast of characters that signal it’s business as usual in City Hall?
Back in December we pointed out that some of the members of de Blasio’s transition team are closely affiliated with REBNY and the Partnership for New York City, two business lobbying groups that enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Mayor Bloomberg. His time in office was called “a wonderful era” by REBNY president Steve Spinola. Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wylde was appointed to the board of the NYC Economic Development Corporation by Bloomberg at the start of his first term. (Interestingly, the EDC by-laws adopted in 2012 also indicate that the board’s chairperson shall be appointed by the mayor in consultation with the Partnership.)
De Blasio continued the trend when he appointed his top development advisors. Alicia Glen left Goldman Sachs after more than a decade to become Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development. She replaces Robert Steel, another former Goldman executive who was also CEO of Wachovia.
Last week Jon Cowan, president of think tank Third Way, and Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy, co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed blasting Senator Elizabeth Warren’s progressive economic agenda as irresponsible and even reckless.
Third Way’s position should come as no surprise to those familiar with the think tank. Just a cursory glance through its LittleSis profile reveals several connections to JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and other financial institutions.
In the wake of a report from ProPublica that the New York Fed fired a senior bank examiner for challenging inadequacies in Goldman Sachs’ management of conflict of interests, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the daily schedules of the New York Fed’s president, William Dudley, a Goldman alum.
Dudley spent two decades at Goldman Sachs before joining the New York Fed, so he was steeped in the ways of the bank, which apparently include a systematic, almost absurd disregard for conflict of interest monitoring and management. According to the ProPublica article, Goldman has no firm-wide conflict of interest policy. One Goldman unit instructs employees not to write down their conflicts. The bank’s conflict of interest unit is the same as its business selection unit, a bizarre structure that almost seems designed to encourage conflicts. The head of this unit does not see it as serving any compliance function. Carmen Segarra, the bank examiner who was fired, suggested that Goldman executives could not even demonstrate a basic understanding of what a conflict of interest is.
Was the New York Federal Reserve conflict of interest training enough to help Dudley overcome years of learning the Goldman way? Had he really avoided any awareness or involvement in the Segarra situation? These are hard questions to answer, and answers are unlikely to surface in any documents (the Goldman way: don’t write it down). A New York Fed spokesperson told ProPublica that Dudley was not involved in firing Segarra. But Dudley’s calendar might reveal that he had had meetings with Goldman executives during the whole saga, which would be interesting and would probably look bad for Dudley (though it would not be proof of his involvement).
The Goldman-Paulson fraud suit threatens to throw a spotlight on a realm of Wall Street that has escaped most scrutiny throughout the financial crisis: the hedge fund industry. Top hedge fund managers profit from Wall Street’s business model of fraud and collusion more than any CEO at the big banks, but tend to evade accountability because of the opacity of their industry and their extraordinary power.
One such hedge fund manager is Richard Perry. Perry, a former Goldman Sachs trader, became known as one of the subprime winners in 2007 — one of the hedge fund managers who saw the crisis coming, and placed profitable bets that the housing market would collapse. Perry reportedly shorted $3 billion in subprime-related securities, netting a $1 billion profit on the trade.
Around the same time, in late 2006 and 2007, Perry’s hedge fund, Perry Corp, began buying up shares in a certain financial management company that had a close business relationship with Goldman Sachs. His stake grew from 5% to 8% (around $30 million in early 2007), to the point where Perry Corp was disclosed as a major shareholder in the company in the prospectus for one CDO put together by Goldman in August 2007.
That company: ACA Capital, the same firm wrapped up in the Goldman Sachs-John Paulson CDO deal that the SEC has deemed fraudulent.
The Goldman fraud suit continues to dominate the media cycle. After the initial shock of the US government actually doing something to hold Wall Street accountable, the business press — led by Goldman Sachs and their lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell — has turned to questions about the merits of the suit. Today, the New York Times gave A1 real estate to a piece headlined “A Difficult Path In Goldman Case.”
The article opens by saying that the SEC is “pursuing an unusual claim that could be difficult to prove in court” according to legal experts. But the article only quotes one legal expert clearly criticizing the substance of the case: Allen Ferrell, a professor at Harvard Law School. According to his CV, Ferrell has been engaged as an “expert for large financial institution involving subprime-related litigation (details confidential).”
This is clearly a potential conflict, but the entire article appears to be based around Ferrell’s lone, critical quote. This is irresponsible journalism, especially considering the landmark significance of the Goldman suit. So I wrote the following letter to the Times ombudsman to alert him to the conflict and request a proper correction/disclosure:
Goldman Sachs appears to be testing the limits of its special talent for avoiding all accountability following revelations of its role in exacerbating the Greek debt crisis.
The bank has come under heavy criticism from European political officials over its role in helping Greece hide its debts, and on Wednesday, Greek labor unions staged a historic strike that shut down the country’s national infrastructure in response to economic policies urged by bankster elites. The European turmoil has forced US officials to take notice, and scrutiny of the bank is now coming from the unlikeliest of quarters, with Ben Bernanke telling Congress on Thursday that the Federal Reserve is looking into Goldman and questions surrounding the bank’s swap transactions with Greece.
Bernanke was vague about what, exactly, the Fed is investigating, and it is possible that the inquiry will go nowhere. But the fact that the Fed chair would make remarks that amplify concerns about Goldman’s role in Europe is a sign that the political winds have shifted significantly since Matt Taibbi’s “vampire squid” metaphor first captured the public imagination last summer. The populist outcry against bankster fraud and collusion finally shows signs of steering the authorities towards a more oppositional, watchdog role.
The rumors of a possible partnership by John Paulson and Goldman Sachs in the speculative attacks on Greece, which I first reported on last week, are now heating up in Europe to the point where one French journalist has multiple sources corroborating them. No one can point to hard evidence, just yet, because these are opaque, unregulated markets. But the news is quickly rising above the status of rumor.