Industry Group Launches Astroturf Study On Derivatives Prior to Committee Hearing

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The House Financial Services Committee is currently holding a hearing on the implementation of new rules for the trading of derivatives by financial and nonfinancial companies as required under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Conversation may turn to a study released yesterday claims that derivatives regulations, as proposed by government oversight agencies, would cost billions for companies and lead to the loss of millions of jobs. The study, sponsored by a corporate coalition known as the Coalition of Derivatives End Users, is already coming under fire.

According to Andrew Ross Sorkin:

The study was conducted by Keybridge Research, a seemingly independent economics and public policy consulting firm. The firm’s bona fides include an all-star roster of academics, including Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economic science; David Laibson, a professor of economics at Harvard, and Stephen P. Zeldes, a professor of economics and finance at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business.

But a closer look at the report raises some serious questions. For one, the findings seem oddly out of step with the views of some of the group’s luminaries, including Mr. Stiglitz, who is advertised on Keybridge’s site as an adviser.

How could that be?

Well, it appears that Mr. Stiglitz and many of the firm’s advisers are not advisers at all.

“This is the first I have heard about it,” said Mr. Stiglitz, who just returned home on Sunday after a five-week trip abroad. He said he was surprised to be listed on the group’s Web site. After reading the study, he said, “It’s not a very good report.”

The more Sorkin poked around the more “advisors” he found who did not know that they were listed on the firm’s web site and wanted their names off of it immediately. Sorkin notes that the study “was strategically released for high impact,” with its release just before today’s hearing.

As Barry Ritholtz points out, this is just another form of astroturfing. Ritholtz writes, “Those with a financial stake in maintaining the status quo about Derivatives are engaging in a phony lobbying campaign to protect their highly lucrative fiefdoms. This includes imitating judges in their astroturfed letter writing campaigns, and now claiming affiliations with well regarded economists and Nobel Laurelates where none exists.”

Groups can organize to fund a study through a firm with the appearance of neutrality, in this case, the listing of well known economists against their wishes, to help their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. The study is currently being touted by the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and, of course the Coalition of Derivatives End Users.

Craig Reiners of MillerCoors will be testifying on behalf of the Coalition of Derivatives End Users at the hearing on derivatives regulations today. The study will no doubt feature in Reiners testimony and in the arguments of supportive lawmakers.

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