This post was written by Nancy Watzman, consultant for the Sunlight Foundation.
Late last year MF Global -- the failed investment firm headed by Democratic heavyweight Jon S. Corzine that can't account for as much as $900 million of its clients' money -- urged a federal agency to allow futures firms to invest funds from their customer segregated accounts in foreign sovereign debt.
In a December 2010 comment letter to the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC), MF Global, along with another firm, Newedge, argued that the agency's proposal to disallow such investments "is unnecessary, and will eliminate a liquid, secure, profitable and necessary category of investment... no foreign country that actually defaulted on its debt resulted in any [futures commission merchant] being unable to return funds to its customers upon request."
MF Global filed for bankruptcy earlier this week after its exposure to the European debt crisis pushed it over the edge of solvency. The firm is also now the subject of investigations by several federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which among other things are investigating whether or not the firm misused customer money.
In its proposed rule, the CFTC had noted "recent global financial volatility" caused the agency to reevaluate its policy of allowing certain investments in foreign sovereign debt. "The financial crisis has highlighted the fact that certain countries' debt can exceed an acceptable level of risk." The agency extended the comment period for this regulation through June and has not yet issued a final rule.
MF Global to CFTC: proposal to restrict investment in foreign sovereign debt is "unnecessary, and will eliminate a liquid, secure, profitable and necessary category of investment."
MF Global's comment letter is just one of numerous communications the firm had with federal agencies over implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, according to meeting logs maintained by federal agencies combined and posted on the Sunlight Foundation's Dodd-Frank Meeting Log tracker. Corzine, a leading Wall Street fundraiser for President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, met personally with agency staff on at least four occasions, one of those a conference call that included CFTC chairman Gary Gensler. Overall, MF Global staff, including Corzine, met with agency officials ten times, all but one of those meetings with the CFTC.
Among the topics discussed at these meetings were Dodd-Frank provisions on "segregation and bankruptcy," which seek to protect customer funds in the event of a bankruptcy.
Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs CEO, spent $62 million of his own money to win election to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. He resigned his seat to run for governor of New Jersey in 2005. In 2009, he lost his reelection bid to Republican Chris Christie, and became CEO of MF Global in 2010. While he is not registered as a lobbyist for the firm, the federal agency meeting logs show he personally was active in pressing the company's interests before agencies.
A former Corzine staffer, Steven Adamske, currently serves as the CFTC public affairs director.
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