by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed another scalp in her fight against the finance industry’s influence on Washington last week.
After years on the warpath against Wall Street, the Massachusetts Democrat set her sights on the left-leaning Brookings Institution. She accused Robert Litan, a Brookings scholar and former Clinton-administration economist, of being a shill for the mutual-fund company that funded his research criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to regulate investment firms. Though Litan claimed that the company, Capital Group, had no influence on his findings, Brookings sought and received his resignation just hours later.
Warren’s push to purge Wall Street money from D.C.’s think tanks is more selective than it seems. The senator maintains a cozy relationship with Better Markets, a Washington, D.C.–based 501(c)3 organization funded almost exclusively by multi-millionaire hedge-fund manager Michael Masters. The hedge funder’s advocacy group is so tight with progressives’ favorite senator that the two often operate as a united front in the fight for stricter financial regulations — Better Markets’s stake in the finance industry notwithstanding.
Some see a serious conflict of interest in the Masters-funded push for financial reform. While Better Markets tirelessly lobbied lawmakers and regulators to tighten the screws on financial firms, Masters’s hedge fund held hundreds of millions of dollars in call options for many of the same companies. If Masters had sold the companies’ stocks short — and the presence of the call options strongly suggests he might have — he could use Better Markets’s advocacy to promote rules that would drive down their prices and drive up his profits.
By failing to adequately disclose its relationship with Masters to lawmakers, observers say Better Markets is doing exactly what Warren accused Brookings of doing — covertly taking money from a finance-industry player to influence regulators with the power to approve policies from which that player can earn huge profits.