At the end of 2007, hedge fund billionaire John Paulson invested $15 million in the leftist non-profit, Center for Responsible Lending, their largest single donation ever. Around the same time, Paulson and his employees contributed over $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed, at the time, by Sen. Chuck Schumer. Roughly six months later, CRL and Sen. Schumer both launched a highly public attack on the California-based mortgage lender, Indymac. The lender failed, wiping out the investment of thousands of people. Roughly six months after that, John Paulson, in partnership with George Soros, bought up the remnants of Indymac for pennies on the dollar.
It is a drama that no longer surprises us, unfortunately. Wealthy investors use their access to elected officials and their checkbook to advocacy groups for private profit. But this story has a twist; a top executive of CRL when this deal went down, Eric Stein, is now working at the Treasury Department, heading up the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Mr. Stein will be the chief federal official designing regulations to protect consumers. Right.
This is that story.
Financial crises create opportunities. Prudent and discerning entrepreneurs who save their capital for a rainy day are able to acquire assets at firesale prices and put these assets to higher and better uses. Market forces cleanse wasteful malinvestments, innovative business models make existing ones obsolete and the economy roars forward all the stronger for it.
But while market entrepreneurs generally prosper during times of great dislocation, ultimately to the benefit of all participants in the economy, today political entrepreneurs have hijacked the economic system. The politically connected elites have used this downturn to carry out a massive wealth transfer from the people to the public and private sectors, fleecing the middle class for their own enrichment. In their hypocrisy, the long ago small businesses that grew large because of free markets have helped chain these markets through lobbying for regulations and subsidies to shield themselves from competition and their own errors.
This has occurred most egregiously in the financial sector, where there has been a veritable free-for-all in legalized political plunder. Those who understand the illusory nature of our monetary and symbiotically related political and financial systems have clamored to profit as much as possible before the house of cards falls, with the sanction of our supposed representatives.
The biggest asset bubble contributing to this Depression, occurring in housing, was largely attributable to artificially low interest rates, government agencies and concomitant policies that pushed profligate lending, and the lobbying and more brutish efforts put forth by the groups that proliferated around and prescribed to the pollyanish at best and perverse at worst “home-ownership for every American” persuasion.
Here at Big Government we have been working to pull the veil back and expose these organizations, most notably in the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). As readers may recall, most recently we examined the Center’s alleged lobbying violations. This organization is highly significant in that for its efforts, the CRL has won a front row seat in helping design the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), as one of its major architects is former CRL senior executive Eric Stein who is serving as the Treasury Deputy Secretary for Consumer Protection and will likely be tabbed as the CFPA Czar.
Like with all of the economic and social justice-peddling shell organizations, in the case of the CRL the acorn does not fall far from the ACORN. Hidden beneath an innocuous title is an organization in the CRL whose activities serve ends directly opposite of those they purport to promote. Under the guise of fostering fairness in lending, the CRL has been used as an attack dog to force banks to lend to poor credit risks. Due to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), redlining lawsuits and the intimidation of groups like the CRL, many banks were threatened into creating mortgage products such as Alt-A and NINJA loans, discarding all rational lending standards and helping create a market ripe for speculators and sure to ultimately be delinquent homeowners.
That the CRL has been largely funded by the Sandler family of option-ARM (and SNL) fame in itself stinks. The Sandlers, Co-CEOs of Golden West Bank were major underwriters of these mortgages generally structured to have low “teaser” rates in early years, followed by massive increases in rates when the mortgages reset, rates that many borrowers could never afford. The explosion in this imprudent lending helped pump housing prices to epic levels, and the Sandlers wisely dumped these mortgages on Wachovia as the bubble reached its apogee. This is a Soros-like strategy of playing the market, which is likely no coincidence as we will soon see.
John Paulson, recently back in the news due to the SEC’s civil suit against Goldman Sachs was the most famous winner of the subprime mortgage debacle, as he used derivatives to bet against mortgage-backed securities that in some cases he had worked with banks to create in order to profit when the housing market crashed. He has received much acclaim for being an astute investor who took a contrarian view and put his money to work accordingly even in the face of rising housing prices, placing bets that ended up paying off handsomely. Paulson & Co. earned an unprecedented $15 billion from the trades, and Paulson himself was said to pocket approximately $4 billion in 2007.
While overnight, Paulson became a celebrity in the financial community, with the media following his every move, interestingly one tidbit seems to have largely evaded them. As John Paulson noted in a statement to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in November of 2008,
As we saw the difficulty homeowners were having in making mortgage payments, in July 2007, prior to the initiation of any government support programs, Paulson & Co. made a $15 million charitable contribution to the Center for Responsible Lending to form the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance (IFLA). The institute supports local groups across the country providing legal representation to families facing foreclosure.
That Paulson would make such a donation is ironic, in that his contribution came from money that Paulson & Co. had earned from the collapse of the very housing bubble that the CRL had helped to blow. While most in the media remained mum on this curious gift, to its credit, Business Week provided a disturbing but logical reason for it, insinuating that Paulson was to financially benefit from a bankruptcy reform bill that the CRL was advocating.
According to a trade publication called the Credit Union Times, in early 2008 Republican Representative Patrick McHenry sent a letter to Democratic Representative Barney Frank requesting a hearing on the use of non-profits to manipulate markets, citing Paulson’s donation as being reflective of this problem. Specifically he asserted, “In October, he [Paulson] gave $15 million to the Center For Responsible Lending, which has been leading the charge in lobbying for a law that would let bankruptcy judges restructure mortgage loans. By forcing servicers to accept lowered monthly payments, market values would likely fall even further, and Mr. Paulson would most definitely benefit financially.” This issue though quite suspect is not nearly as significant as the one we are approaching.
Paulson was not the only major benefactor of the CRL. As Activist Cash notes, George Soros’ Open Society Institute has donated at least $100,000 to the CRL. Soros of course seems to be behind almost all of these leftist groups as has been well-documented in numerous articles and in David Horowitz’s 2007 book, The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party. When it comes to Soros’ character and aspirations, it bears noting that Soros willingly confiscated property with the Nazis who slaughtered his own Jewish people during the Holocaust, and was quoted in a damning 2004 Newsmax article as saying that he wanted to “puncture the bubble of American supremacy.” He has also had a penchant for making bundles of money off of collapses resulting from the socialist policies that he so ardently supports. Needless to say that in my view, George Soros is a dangerous and diabolical character.
During the throes of the credit crisis with banks failing across the country due to their collapsing loan portfolios, friends of the CRL John Paulson and George Soros along with a handful of other money managers formed an investment vehicle called IMB Management Holdings to acquire these beaten down assets. The first bank that they purchased? IndyMac.
As you may remember, IndyMac was the struggling bank that New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer curiously was said to have caused a run on in July of 2008, and I say curiously given that a. IndyMac was a commercial bank in California, about as far as could be from Schumer’s constituents, and b. normally it does not fall under the job description of members of Congress (even ones with a fetish for the camera as great as that of Schumer) to leak statements that may materially affect financial institutions. Schumer’s statements on the problems of IndyMac were eerily similar to those divulged in a report released by the Center for Responsible Lending entitled “IndyMac: What Went Wrong? How an “Alt-A” Leader Fueled its Growth with Unsound Abusive Mortgage Lending.” The very business that the CRL had helped push banks like IndyMac into was now being criticized by the CRL as abusive.
The timing of Schumer’s actions and those of CRL are worth noting. Sen. Schumer released his “concerns” about Indymac on a Thursday. On the following Monday, CRL released their “report” on Indymac. Understand, the CRL report was the first time in the organization’s history that they released a full research report on an individual company. Built on interviews with former employees, the report would have taken some time to compile. It may have been a weird coincidence, but a PR firm could not have designed a better schedule.
Whether or not Schumer and the CRL orchestrated the bank run, within 11 days of Schumer’s revelations, depositors withdrew more than $1.3 billion from IndyMac. A bank that at its peak in March of 2008 had held $32 billion in assets was sold to Paulson and Soros’ holding company for $13.9 billion in a deal that closed in March of 2009. Created out of IndyMac’s remains was OneWest Bank.
Senator Schumer and The Center for Responsible Lending appear to have been on the same page for some time. In February of 2008, the CRL cited Senator Schumer in a white paper critical of Countrywide’s lending practices. In March 2009, Schumer co-sponsored a bill to create a “Financial Product Safety Commission,” supported by “over 55 national and state organizations, including Consumer Federation of America, Center for Responsible Lending, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, La Raza, AFL-CIO, SEIU, National Consumer Law Center, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and US PIRG.” Additionally, in June of 2009, Senator Schumer was honored by ACORN, one of the CRL’s closest allies. When these points are considered in context of Schumer’s ideological bent and constituency, I believe it is safe to say that at the very least Schumer is sympathetic to the CRL’s agenda.
Senator Schumer has also had substantial financial ties to George Soros and John Paulson.
Most recently, in June of 2009 Soros donated $2000 to Schumer. In 2005, Soros hosted a fundraiser for Democratic Senatorial candidates headlined by Schumer. In general, given the millions of dollars that Soros has contributed to Democrats and Democratic causes over the years, it is likely that other benefits both direct and indirect have accrued to the New York Senator courtesy of Mr. Soros.
Meanwhile, John Paulson’s hedge fund Paulson & Co. has been a very generous donor to Democrats. In 2007, Paulson made a $25,000 donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chaired by none other than Senator Charles Schumer (outdoing even Soros who only contributed a measly $21,750 to the DSCC that year), and also contributed $2300 each to Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Democrat Max Baucus, and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services Chairman and Democrat Dick Durbin. All told, during the 2007-2008 fundraising cycle, Paulson & Co. contributed $105,000 to the DSCC, $20,700 to Baucus and $19,400 to Durbin. More recently, Paulson is reported to have held a $1000-per-head fundraiser for Democratic Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd.
Now to be fair, it is common practice for Wall Street firms to donate to politicians that legislate on issues dear to them, but in the case of these two gentlemen, donations have been decidedly partisan and closely connected to Schumer.
To review, George Soros and John Paulson are major supporters of the CRL, the ACORN-like group that helped contribute to the financial crisis and whose former principal Eric Stein is now building and set to run the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Chuck Schumer likely shares the CRL’s agenda and appears to have helped precipitate a run on IndyMac at the same time as the release of the CRL’s critical report on the same bank, a bank that Soros and Paulson were later able to purchase in a sweetheart deal with the FDIC (though the FDIC has reacted in unprecedented fashion in vehemently denying this claim). Soros and Paulson have been major contributors to Senate Democrats including Schumer and his allies.
To add another wrinkle to the story, in July 2008, shortly after regulators seized IndyMac, Self Help, the financial parent of the CRL that spawned in response to the CRA chartered a credit union in California with $5 million. The purpose of the union was to serve “low-wealth California families,” likely the same families that IndyMac had targeted before its collapse. According to the Credit Union Times, Self Help has swelled since its inception and now controls $150 million in assets.
Can this all be a coincidence? Given George Soros’ proclivity for shady dealings in his profiting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in his downright frightening instigation of “velvet revolutions” abroad, it is hard to imagine him partaking in a venture in which the odds are not decidedly in his favor. Soros’ investing style is to guarantee success by supporting policies that undermine countries and their industries, and profit handsomely off of their failures and at times subsequent bailouts, be it in the case of the British pound or Citigroup. What is peculiar is how wedded Soros has become to John Paulson, a man whose past I have not found to be checkered with progressivism, but I suppose their profits trump partisanship.
The above shameful narrative is in my view illustrative of the rule rather than the exception in contemporary America. Simply put, the house always wins. The house is the government-financial complex. The best political entrepreneurs enjoy the spoils of this corrupted system at the expense of market entrepreneurs and the American people. This system can only last so long before it collapses, and knowing this, the most adept players are cashing in under the pretense of crises that will pale in comparison to the ones we will ultimately face if we do not reverse our path as a people.
The MSM’s reticence to investigate the CRL represents another failure on their part to do their job. More important however are the the implications herein regarding the CRL’s potential complicity with Senators and hedge fund managers which appears to be not only outrageous, but hazardous especially in light of the CRL’s role in forthcoming financial regulation. Yet this particular story represents a mere symptom, albeit writ incredibly large, of a socialistic and thus immoral system that is fast accelerating our demise.