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Obama’s SEC war against Goldman Sachs

A few thoughts on the SEC charges against Goldman Sachs:

1) Goldman Sachs gave the Obama campaign $994k during the 2008 election, his biggest donor. Doesn’t this undercut the theory just a bit that Washington is under the thumb of Wall Street?Even a tiny bit? (No, say Simon Johnson and James Kwak.)

2) I can’t help but think this boosts the odds of financial reform passing and a shift it to the left, as well. You might even see more GOPers advocate for breaking up the banks, as do some Fed regional presidents.

3) Certainly under the leadership of a new chairman and enforcement director, the SEC’s Obama years have marked a hard switch from the posture of the Bush SEC. In 2009, the regulator opened twice as many investigations as in 2008, with fines up 35 percent. The new assertiveness helped cool talk the Hill that the SEC should be merged with the CFTC pushed into a giant super-regulator

4) But its aggression can also lead to unforced errors. A judge threw out a $33 million SEC fine against BofA regarding bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees. The SEC also failed to execute in its case against Cohmad Securities and the firm’s involvement with Bernard Madoff. In February, a federal court dismissed the SEC’s “flimsy” charges that Cohmad helped enable the notorious Ponzi schemer.

5) A failed case against Goldman for alleged securities fraud might leave the SEC in worse shape. It would also open the watchdog to charges that the timing of its charges, right in the middle of a debate over financial reform, was merely an attempt by the Obama administration to intimidate Wall Street into supporting its get-tough legislation.

6) This is exactly the sort of scenario a bank exec outlined to me a few months back. The exec worried that the longer FinReg reform dragged on, the odds increased that some bolt-from-the-blue news would change the political calculus and push the bill to the left.