Friday, February 10, 2017

Trump's attacks on Dodd-Frank presage dark days ahead

Amid the flurry of executive orders emanating from the White House, as Donald Trump tries his level best to reverse all the good progressive work of Barack Obama over the last eight years, some of the smaller ones tend to get lost among the larger, more contentious ones. In fact, if I didn't know better, I might think that the more controversial orders were just a smoke-screen to hide the smaller ones from too much public scrutiny...
One such overlooled item is the imminent watering down of the regulatory Dodd-Frank rules (the executive order has not yet been issued, but is apparently due any day now). The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to give it its full title, is a huge piece of financial reform legislation brought in by the Obama administration in 2010, in response to the financial crisis of 2007-8. Its provisions aim to protect the American economy, consumers and investors, to end bailouts of financial institutions, to provide an advanced warning system on the stability of the economy, to rein in corporate compensation packages, and to improve corporate governance. All of which sounds entirely laudable, except that many businessmen see it as a dastardly infringement on their God-given right to make profits by any means possible.
Enter Donald Trump. His expected executive order looks to reverse the Dodd-Frank rule that requires companies to investigate and disclose whether their products contain "conflict minerals" from war-torn parts of Africa like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Human rights groups spent years trying to get the issue recognized, and it was a major coup for them when it was tucked into the 2010 legislation. However, Dodd-Frank specifically allows the President to temporarily suspend or revise the rule for two years if it is considered to be in the country's national security interests, and this is presumably what Trump will argue (although it is difficult to see, at first blush, exactly how). The only people who would benefit from such a move are Congolese warlords and unethical US corporations.
In actual fact, the American business community has already made moves against the conflict minerals provision with a court case in 2014, in which a free-speech argument led to the paring back of the requirement for public disclosure. And just last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it was looking into whether "additional relief" from the provision was warranted.
Add to that the fact that the Republican-controlled Congress repealed (also last week) another Dodd-Frank provision requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments, and a separate Trump executive order calling on the Treasury Secretary, the SEC and other financial regulators to look into possible regulatory changes and legislation, and the whole American financial regulation framework (which was strengthened by President Obama in the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial melt-down) seems to be under dire threat from Mr. Trump's pro-business-and-hang-the-social-cost agenda.
I looks like dark days and a certain amount of déjà-vu lie ahead.

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