A huge win for muniland was finalized last week when the SEC approved new rules that will shine light on the municipal bond underwriting process. This Bloomberg headline says it all: “Bond-Disclosure Rules Backed by SEC to Protect States From Banks”:
The rules were proposed by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board last year and are aimed at preventing Wall Street underwriters from steering public officials toward complicated debt financing without disclosing the risks. They were approved May 4 by the SEC, which will enforce them.
The disclosures are part of the effort to reshape financial regulations to prevent a repeat of the credit-market crisis of 2008, and stem from Congress’s decision to provide added protections for state and local governments. The economic crisis hit taxpayers with billions of dollars in unexpected costs when complex bond deals, once pitched as money savers, backfired as credit markets seized up.
I spent almost a year on Capitol Hill leading an open-source financial reform project as Dodd-Frank was being written. This is about the only area of the legislation in which there was no pushback from banks. Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was the committee’s ranking member at the time the legislation was being developed. Bachus’s home district in Alabama includes Jefferson County, the bankrupt county that has been buried under a series of deals with JPMorgan on interest-rate derivatives deals. Whether the banks explicitly held off challenging tighter municipal bond rules out of deference to Representative Bachus or whether they decided other parts of the legislation were higher priority is unknown.
In any event, the new rules are sweeping. Alan Polsky, the chairman of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, said as much in a statement: