Getting what should be public information about major Wall Street firms can be maddeningly difficult.
Bloomberg News discovered this in its ultimately successful effort to get information on the $1.2 trillion in “secret loans” the Fed doled out during the financial crisis. And I’ve had no small experience of it myself.
As I started each of my three books -- about Lazard Freres, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) -- I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the appropriate government agencies (the Securities Exchange Commission, the State Department and the Federal Reserve) to obtain whatever documents, memos and e-mails they had about these companies and their senior executives.
I was hoping to find, among other nuggets, details of enforcement actions, or settlements that were reached where the firms “neither admitted nor denied” guilt, or other documentary evidence of the coziness that has for too long existed between Wall Street and Washington.
Sadly, getting this information in anything like a timely basis -- say, before my books were finished and published -- has been nearly impossible. At first, when I asked the SEC about documents related to Lazard’s role in the Hartford-Mediobanca scandal starting in 1968 and ending in 1981, the agency told me it could not release the information. When I reminded the FOIA administrator that the SEC had already released the information, years before, to another journalist, the agency dug up the 40 boxes of unindexed, unorganized documents and invited me to a warehouse in Pennsylvania to take a look. After an hour or so, the clerk asked me if I was done with my review. (Eventually, I persuaded the SEC to ship the boxes -- at my expense -- to its office in Manhattan, where I spent months poring over them.)