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Transparency for TARP

While the AIG bonuses made headlines, the issues of bonuses is really just the tip of the iceberg…

AIG made headlines for giving out millions of dollars in bonuses after receiving billions of dollars in federal bailout funds. But the issue of bonuses is really just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, taxpayers do not really know how banks and other corporate recipients of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have used the money.

The lack of transparency inspired the Brennan Center to write to Elizabeth Warren, the Chair of TARP’s Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), to urge greater disclosure of political spending by those entities saved by the taxpayers.

We urged disclosure of the following information by bailout recipients in a single searchable document:

Contributions to candidate committees;
Contributions to political action committees (PACs);
Contributions to political parties or political party committees;
Independent expenditures on advertisements that mention candidates for office or office holders; and
Expenditures to pay for registered lobbyists and lobbying activity.

The Brennan Center is not alone in urging more disclosure by the TARP banks. The Center for Political Accountability recently wrote to the largest TARP recipients urging the banks to: (1) disclose on the company website all political spending including soft money contributions and payments to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations that are used for political purposes; (2) require board oversight of corporate political spending; and (3) adopt policies and procedures for approval and review of political spending.

The bailout money was supposed to help us move forward and out of the economic crisis. The explicit goals of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 included:

  • (A) protecting home values, college funds, retirement accounts, and life savings;
  • (B) preserving homeownership and promoting jobs and economic growth;
  • (C) maximizing overall returns to the taxpayers of the United States; and
  • (D) providing public accountability for the exercise of such authority.[1]

Yet, given the lack of detailed reporting by recipients, we don’t know where the money went. In particular, we don’t know if taxpayer funds are being used for narrow political or partisan purposes. Whether the information comes from the banks through public pressure or from enhanced oversight by regulators, it is clear that more transparency and accountability should accompany the use of public funds.

[1] Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, Sec. 2, click here to read.