Treasury fails on transparency rules

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In one of his first official acts as Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner promised to make sure the public knew what lobbyists were up to when contacting his department about the bailout of troubled financial institutions.

But by one important measure, the lobbyists appear to be the more transparent.

An analysis by The Washington Times found more than a dozen recent examples in which special interests reported to Congress that they lobbied the Treasury on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or on the legislation that authorized what now amounts to an $862 billion bailout.

However, Treasury never disclosed those lobbying activities, despite new rules requiring the government to post reports after registered lobbyists come calling on bailout policy or applications for funding.

Ethics analysts say the findings raise questions about whether a lack of enforcement could undermine Treasury’s pledge for greater openness and transparency - a signature issue during President Obama’s run for the White House.

“We’ve already seen some reports late by weeks,” said Daniel Schuman, an attorney for the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. “This is unacceptable, as they are required to be published online within three days.”

Another ethics analyst, Craig Holman, of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said Treasury lags behind other federal agencies when it comes to transparency.

“Mr. Geithner’s rules are excellent rules, but it’s a matter of implementing them,” he said. “By the time he implemented the rules, the TARP program was just about over with. What this suggests is Treasury is not seriously working to implement them.”

Treasury officials defended their disclosure program.

“We will investigate these claims of failure to adhere with our policy and take corrective action where necessary,” Treasury spokeswoman Meg Reilly said.

Ms. Reilly also said Treasury has given formal guidance to employees on the new rules, in addition to providing “a significant amount of training for all employees regarding their responsibilities to comply with the disclosure requirements.”

By law, lobbyists must file reports with Congress on their activities each quarter. A review of fourth-quarter 2009 reports provides numerous examples of lobbyists who said they had contacted the Treasury on TARP or on the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA), the legislation funding the bailout program.

But those lobbying contacts do not appear on the Treasury’s Web site.

Genworth Financial, for instance, spent more than $1 million lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies from October through the end of 2009, according to the company’s Senate disclosure report. Among other activities, Genworth reported lobbying Treasury, the House and the Senate on the EESA and TARP.

Jackson National Life Insurance Co. also reported contacting the House, the Senate and Treasury, lobbying on TARP proposals to extend funds to life insurance companies. In April, the company’s top executive even appealed to Mr. Geithner personally, sending him a letter outlining the company’s position against giving bailout money to life insurance companies.

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