The surprises of SEC's infinite revolving door conflicts of interest never cease to amaze (or, for that matter end). Andrew Ross Sorkin has taken some time from his busy media whirlwind tour schedule and conducted some actual investigative reporting for a change, discovering that the SEC's co-chief counsel in charge of helping write derivative rules, Adam Glass, who previously testified about Goldman's Abacus, the culprit for the biggest SEC settlement in history against a Wall Street firm, had some very specific inside knowledge vis-a-vis Abacus. He signed off on it. Writes Sorkin: "Before working on the financial crisis cleanup, he helped create the opaque securities that contributed to the mess...For many years, Mr. Glass served as the outside counsel to Paulson & Company...And yes, Mr. Glass, in that role, signed off on Abacus, which was created specifically for the hedge fund to short subprime mortgages. Mr. Paulson handpicked some of the underlying investments in the derivative...The government, in its complaint, claimed that Goldman had "misstated and omitted key facts regarding" Abacus, including disclosing Mr. Paulson's role in its creation. The firm paid $550 million to settle the case, without admitting or denying guilt...his role once again raises questions about the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street at a time when public distrust about the agency and its lack of enforcement action against the culprits of the crisis is running high..."If he was involved in Abacus, how is he supposed to police it?" We are not sure if we are more confused by the fact that Sorkin has actually done some actual research or that yet another SEC crony is exposed to be in the pocket of Wall Street's rich and powerful. Actually, the former. Certainly the former.
More from Dealbook:
"The revolving door is such a dominant fact about the S.E.C.'s culture," said John C. Coffee Jr., a Columbia Law School professor. "You get people who go to Washington for one to three years and then go back to Wall Street."
The pattern has been well documented. According to the Project on Government Oversight, 219 former S.E.C. staff members filed 789 "postemployment statements indicating their intent to represent an outside client before the commission" from 2006 to 2010. In other words, the one-time government officials are representing Wall Street clients with matters before the agency.
While clearly there are questions about whether the public wants someone in government who just came from industry, the opposite argument can be made, too: It may be better to have the fox in the henhouse.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt "justified appointing Joe Kennedy as chairman of the S.E.C. with the line: 'You need to set a thief to catch a thief,' " said Professor Coffee. "That is the case for bringing in an industry expert."
After all, the best way for the government to stay ahead of financial innovations -- or at least not fall too far behind -- is to employ people who know them best.
Mr. Glass, who has long advocated more regulation of derivatives in certain instances, came to the S.E.C. with a strong finance pedigree. A graduate of Harvard and of Stanford Law School, Mr. Glass was a partner at Linklaters, where he founded the firm's structured finance and derivatives practice.
In addition to Paulson & Company, he counted Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers among his top clients. Mr. Glass was not involved in the controversial opinion that Linklaters issued to Lehman about a practice known as Repo 105 that has come under scrutiny. The tactic allowed Lehman to conceal billions of dollars on its balance sheet.
Mr. Glass took a big pay cut to become a civil servant. The average Linklaters partner made about $2.3 million in 2008, the year before he left, according to Legal Week, an industry publication. The most Mr. Glass could make at the S.E.C. is $233,000.
When I asked Mr. Glass about his deposition in the Tourre case and his role as the lawyer for Mr. Paulson in the Abacus transaction, he said, "Yes, that would be true." He then directed me to the S.E.C.'s spokesman, who quickly issued a "no comment."
Spokesmen for Mr. Tourre and Mr. Paulson also declined to comment.
And so forth. All those surprised raise your hands.
h/t Manal Mehta