Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve must make public reports about recipients of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers under programs created to address the financial crisis, a federal judge ruled.
Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve must for the first time identify the companies in its emergency lending programs after losing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.More info available from Reuters:
Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled against the central bank yesterday, rejecting the argument that loan records aren’t covered by the law because their disclosure would harm borrowers’ competitive positions.
The Fed has refused to name the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under 11 programs, most put in place during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, saying that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders. Bloomberg LP, the New York-based company majority-owned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued on Nov. 7 on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit.
“The Federal Reserve has to be accountable for the decisions that it makes,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, after Preska’s ruling. “It’s one thing to say that the Federal Reserve is an independent institution. It’s another thing to say that it can keep us all in the dark.”
The judge said the central bank “improperly withheld agency records” by “conducting an inadequate search” after Bloomberg News reporters filed a request under the information act. She gave the Fed five days to turn over documents it told the reporters it located, including 231 pages of reports, and said it must look for more at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which runs most of the loan programs.
The central bank “essentially speculates on how a borrower might enter a downward spiral of financial instability if its participation in the Federal Reserve lending programs were to be disclosed,” Preska wrote. “Conjecture, without evidence of imminent harm, simply fails to meet the Board’s burden” of proof.
David Skidmore, a Fed spokesman who said the board’s staff was reviewing the 47-page ruling, declined to comment on whether the central bank would appeal.
Bloomberg said in the suit that U.S. taxpayers need to know the terms of Fed lending because the public became an “involuntary investor” in the nation’s banks as the financial crisis deepened and the government began shoring up companies with capital injections and loans. Citigroup Inc. and American International Group Inc. are among those who have said they accepted Fed loans.
“When an unprecedented amount of taxpayer dollars were lent to financial institutions in unprecedented ways and the Federal Reserve refused to make public any of the details of its extraordinary lending, Bloomberg News asked the court why U.S. citizens don’t have the right to know,” said Matthew Winkler, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News. “We’re gratified the court is defending the public’s right to know what is being done in the public interest.” [...]
The U.S. House may vote as soon as next month on a bill to require the Fed to submit to audits by the Government Accountability Office, said Representative Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican on the Financial Services Committee.
The judge’s ruling “is strikingly good news,” Garrett said. “This is what the American people have been asking for.”
The Freedom of Information Act obliges federal agencies to make government documents available to the press and public. The Bloomberg suit, filed in New York, didn’t seek money damages. [...]
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday ruled against an effort by the U.S. Federal Reserve to block disclosure of companies that participated in and securities covered by a series of emergency funding programs as the global credit crisis began to intensify.
In a 47-page opinion, Chief District Judge Loretta Preska of the federal court in Manhattan said the central bank failed to show that disclosure would cause borrowers in the Federal Reserve System to suffer "imminent competitive harm," by stigmatizing them for using Fed lending programs.
"The board essentially speculates on how a borrower might enter a downward spiral of financial instability if its participation in the Federal Reserve lending programs were to be disclosed," she wrote. "Conjecture, without evidence of imminent harm, simply fails to meet the board's burden." [...]
The case arose when two Bloomberg News reporters submitted requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about actions the Fed took to shore up the financial system in 2007 and early 2008, including an expansion of lending programs and the sale of Bear Stearns Cos to JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N).
After the Fed resisted the request, Bloomberg sued to compel disclosure.
Preska concluded the Fed "improperly withheld agency records in response to a FOIA request by conducting an inadequate search," she wrote.
FOIA obliges federal agencies to make government documents available to the public, subject to various exemptions.