Transparency for AIG Gets a Boost

Lawmakers are finally getting seriously ticked off at the Federal Reserve for concealing who is really benefiting from the bailout of AIG, something Bloomberg has been trying to find out—and has sued over—for months.

The Senators’ carping gives the papers an excuse to play it big, and mostly they do, on B1 in the Times and A3 in the Journal. Here’s Bloomberg’s story. The Washington Post stuffs it somewhat, on D2.

Here’s the Times, putting the issue very nicely (my emphasis):

Tens of billions of those dollars have merely passed through A.I.G. to its derivatives trading partners, shielding them from losses. The Fed has refused to provide the names of those financial institutions, and senator after senator, Democrat and Republican, said that was an outrage.

That black box of who’s getting bailed out through the backdoor is important, as Dean Starkman has written. We deserve to know where our money is going. This isn’t exactly the black budget.

Meanwhile, I think the Journal buries the lede somewhat by focusing on the moral hazard issue of the AIG bailout. The Post and the Times’s are better.

This is what I like to hear out of Congress:

“We need to know who benefited, and we’re going to find out,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and the ranking member of the committee. “The Fed can be secretive for a while but not forever.”

This is an important story. If President Obama is being honest about “transparency,” the AIG bailout—and the wider issue of Fed collateral— is a good place to start.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.