1. The Dodd-Frank effect: Good, bad or both?
Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the mega-agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, has only been in existence for about six months, all of the Republican presidential candidates and GOP congressional leaders have slammed the agency and called for its abolition. Their central charge is that the regulations it has already promulgated are strangling the financial system and disabling banks from making the kinds of loans to small businesses and potential homeowners that would reignite the economy.
For example, in the Jan. 23 Republican presidential debate Mitt Romney said he had spoken to a banker in New York who said he had “hundreds of lawyers” tied up trying to navigate the new regulations.
Some sophisticated financial reporter, or team of reporters, needs to dig into that – with specifics. What exactly is the new agency requiring that is gumming up the works? What new rules are drawing the most persuasive complaints? How burdensome are they? How many lawyers and others are actually involved who were not working on the same types of regulations before? What abuses are the new rules intended to prevent? Which ones, if any, really do seem indefensible and which ones, if any, seem smartly crafted and worth the extra burden?
The best way to do a story like this is to go to one big bank and ask for full, on-the-record access to those working in the trenches on compliance. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, who has been a lead complainer, would be my first candidate; ask him to show us the trauma. Then enlist a community bank in the same show-and-tell. Dig in to every single detail, with no preconceptions. Either way, it’s a great story about how what happens in Washington affects Wall Street and Main Street.
2. Private equity and blue-collar workers:
The controversy over Bain Capital and Mitt Romney’s defense against charges that Bain is guilty of “vulture capitalism” call for a broader story about one of the most interesting ironies in American finance and business: As Romney has pointed out, private equity funds draw much of their investment dollars from – and make much of their money for – pension funds. And among the biggest of these pension funds are those whose beneficiaries are the most liberal-leaning, 99-percenter unions, particularly those representing teachers and other public employees. The same is true of venture capital funds, which, because they focus more on startups than private equity funds do, are perhaps more likely to fund businesses that threaten to disrupt an industrial status quo that unions might want to preserve.