Obama vs. Cuomo on Bank Investigations

by Chris Sturr | March 27, 2009

From Bloomberg:

Obama Backs Banks, Seeks to Block Fair-Lending Probe

By Greg Stohr

March 26 (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration’s call for greater financial regulation may have its limits.

The administration late yesterday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to bar New York and other states from enforcing their fair-lending and other consumer-protection laws against federally chartered banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The legal brief, which adopts the Bush administration’s position, is a setback for consumer and civil-rights groups that had urged President Barack Obama’s team to switch positions. The filing puts the administration at odds with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over the respective roles of state and federal regulators. The high court will hear arguments April 28.

“National banks are created by the government to serve federal purposes,” argued Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the Obama administration’s top courtroom lawyer. “Oversight of the banks is therefore principally entrusted to the United States.”

The court filing coincides with this week’s proposal by the administration to put large hedge funds, private-equity firms and derivatives under federal supervision for the first time.

Reviving Investigation

Cuomo is seeking to revive an investigation, begun by predecessor Eliot Spitzer, into the real-estate lending practices of units of JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and HSBC Holdings Plc. A lower court barred the probe, saying a regulation issued by the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency blocks state scrutiny of national banks.

The case will determine whether federal regulators have exclusive governmental authority to press fair-lending and other types of complaints against national banks. More broadly, the case will shape how much ability agencies have to shield companies from state-level scrutiny.

Kagan filed the brief on behalf of the OCC, an independent Treasury Department bureau still being run by Republican appointee John Dugan, whose term expires in 2010. Obama has decided to retain Dugan, two people familiar with the decision said last month.

“We’re disappointed to see it,” said Gail Hillebrand, a San Francisco-based Consumers Union attorney who had sent a letter urging the administration to switch sides in the case. “We hope they just haven’t gotten around to getting rid of those regulations. It’s certainly a missed opportunity.”

Read the rest of the article (it’s short).

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