Surprise, They’re At It Again

20130507 Surprise JP

In the latest news from the “color me unsurprised” department, JPMorgan Chase is reportedly under investigation for manipulating energy prices and lying under oath about the scheme. According to The New York Times, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering whether to pursue regulatory actions against JPM for charging California and Michigan $83 million in excessive payments that had a harmful impact on energy markets, not to mention the taxpayers of these states. Further, a top executive at the megabank is believed to have lied to investigators about her knowledge of the shady transactions.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m about as shocked as Claude Rains was to find gambling at Rick’s Café in Casablanca. The only difference is that the rest of us aren’t picking up any winnings—we’re all losers on this deal. The only winners here—the high-stakes gamblers at JPMorgan—are the same people who brought us the financial crisis and Great Recession just a few short years ago. And I mean literally—these are the same exact people. The executive accused of lying to investigators helped develop the credit default swaps that played a role in tanking the markets back in 2007 and 2008.

Of course, these are just the latest revelations of underhanded dealings at the nation’s too-big-to-fail firms. The Times reports that regulators also are investigating JPMorgan’s use of faulty documents in pursuing lawsuits against delinquent credit card customers, while separate investigations are focusing on the megabank’s role in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, regulators continue investigating whether global megabanks colluded to rig Libor interest rates to maximize profits.

And let’s not forget the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report that found that JPM used federally insured deposits to fund a portfolio of complex financial instruments used for risky trades that resulted in billions of dollars in losses. The report also found that JPM misinformed investors, regulators, lawmakers and taxpayers about the “London Whale” trades and actually hid $600 million in losses.

In other words, there is no lack of evidence that the too-big-to-fail financial firms pose fundamental risks to our global financial system. These institutions, which enjoy a taxpayer-subsidized funding advantage over community banks, are not only incentivized to take outsized risks with the understanding that taxpayers are there to bail them out if their gambles don’t pay off. They also know that the worst thing that will happen to them is the acceleration of an enormous severance package.

I was a community banker for 25 years. If even one of these transgressions had happened on my watch I would have been stripped clean of everything I owned and publicly hung out to dry on Main Street just before they hauled me off to the state penitentiary. Too-big-to-fail institutions are making a mockery of our nation’s lawmakers and regulators. It is time to restore discipline to our financial system. This is the United States of America, a nation founded on laws, principles and equality.

No wonder lawmakers are pushing the TBTF Act (S. 798) to implement higher capital levels on the largest megabanks to address their too-big-to-fail market distortions and to ensure they can pay off their own debts if they go bust. Taking on the too-big-to-fail problem head on is the only way to end this relentless string of arrogant abuse by our nation’s largest financial firms. And we need to do it now before we get it wrong again, because next time will be too late.

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