Sen. Levin: Transparency for me, not for thee


Sen. Carl Levin, angered by the lack of transparency in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, vowed to subpoena the Treasury Department last Sunday if they refused to release contracts that Citigroup and other banks signed to receive funds under TARP.

Treasury assured Levin yesterday that there was no need for a subpoena — they would provide him with copies of the contracts as early as today. Lisa Chiu, one of our intrepid researchers on the SubsidyScope project, wanted to know if that meant the public would have the same opportunity as Levin to see how what banks are agreeing to do with TARP funds.

Dave Pollock, Levin’s spokesperson, told Chiu that the Michigan senator has no plans to release the contracts once he gets them, saying that the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations – which Levin chairs – typically does not release such documents to the public.

Treasury is giving Levin the contracts that financial titans and totterers like American International Group, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, State Street Corporation, and Wells Fargo signed to get billions of bailout money — taxpayer money — last year. Did these firms, as Levin wanted to know, agree to aid borrowers who are trying to keep up with their mortgage payments? Did they offer debt relief to cash-strapped customers? Levin will know, the public won’t. (Update: Levin now says his instinct would be to release the documents. Ours too. So let’s have them.)

Pollack suggested that we contact Treasury if we want the information. We’ve asked; if Treasury says no, we’ll file a Freedom of Information Act request. With any luck, and assuming that the FOIA request will be handled with the usual speed, they should have the documents, oh, a year or two from now.