Go-To-Meeting Government

DealBook in the New York Times offers a portrait of Gary Gensler who is chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. I was inspired by Gensler’s story. He moved from Wall Street to Washington to go into public service while raising three girls as a single father. His quest to “overhaul the murky $600 trillion derivatives market” is meeting with the usual resistance from Wall Street insiders who don’t want transparency but do want special treatment. In the interview, Gensler gives us a sense of how the scales are balanced in Washington:

Q. How would you describe the response you’ve received from industry lobbyists?

A. It’s professional. It’s active. We’ve had about 475 meetings in five months. And since the lobbyists haven’t found us on the weekends (usually), you can do the arithmetic. It’s quite a bit.

I will say this: In America, large institutions have a great deal more resources than the investor advocates. If you looked at those 475 meetings — and we’re posting every one of them on our Web site — 90-plus percent are probably larger institutions or corporations.

Q. Can your staff handle the load?

A. This agency, just this past year, got back to the size it was in 1999. We think we need about 400 more people — even though we’re taking on markets that are seven times the size of what we currently regulate and far more complicated. So we’re going to continue to make the case. Even though our great nation has a very large deficit, this is the best investment for taxpayer money.

Q. Republicans have said that the C.F.T.C. is moving too fast in developing regulations. Are they right?

A. I think we have to remember there was a great financial crisis in 2008. Every American was affected — millions of Americans are out of work, millions of Americans have homes that are worth less than their mortgages. Derivatives played a role in that.

I found it fascinating that Gensler let us in on the game in Washington. Here’s the link to the list of external meetings on the CFTC website.

There’s not any detailed information about what goes on in the meetings but it’s nice to see an agency reporting on who’s knocking at the door. In Gov 2.0 terms, this is progress. The next step is to have live webcams present.

Still, lobbyists get an all-access pass to government agencies. Those are the voices that are heard in DC. Even if they don’t get what they want, they use up as much time as possible — and that seems to be part of the game. It’s a slow-down offense — if they can’t get an easy basket, they just keep passing the ball back and forth, making the agency stay on defense. Funny that Gensler can be accused of moving too fast on regulation, three years after the financial crisis.

Gensler seems determined to do what’s best, even though he’s besieged by lobbyists. I certainly hope he succeeds.

And Gensler might also have more than just lobbyists to worry about. In a separate story written for Monday, Man Accused of Threatening to Kill Regulators, Dealbook reports that Gary Gensler received threats from a NY money manager who was also targeting 47 different federal regulators. The man was arrested on Friday.