Today’s Must Read

John McCain’s go-to economics adviser isn’t holding up very well under close scrutiny.

Phil Gramm, the former Texas senator and economist, is taking a lot of heat after reports that up until April 18 he was a registered lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss bank that is the world’s largest manager of private wealth.

A former economics professor at Texas A&M, Gramm has long advocated for tax cuts, supply-side economics and less government regulation. But as David Corn over at Mother Jones reports in “Foreclosure Phil?” Gramm also played an integral role in the financial scandal commonly known as the “subprime meltdown.”

Gramm took to the Senate floor on Dec. 15, 2000 — just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision — and inserted a 262-page measure into a massive budget bill.

The act, he declared, would ensure that neither the [SEC] nor the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] got into the business of regulating newfangled financial products called swaps–and would thus “protect financial institutions from overregulation” and “position our financial services industries to be world leaders into the new century.”

If your eyes tend to glaze over at the details of complex financial markets, Corn spells out the mechanics in simple terms.

Bottom line is the free-for-all in credit-default swaps during the past seven years added greatly to the financial markets’ instability, as investment banks began laying out cash like, Corn says, “bookies trading bets.”

Gramm remains the vice chairman of the UBS investment arm, and he appears to have benefited from his close ties to the financial industry since leaving the Senate a few years ago.

Whether or not Gramm had bothered to ponder the potential downsides of his commodities legislation, having helped set off an industry free-for-all, he reaped the rewards. In 2003, he left the Senate to take a highly lucrative job at [UBS], Switzerland’s largest bank, which had been able to acquire investment house PaineWebber due to his banking deregulation bill. He would soon be lobbying Congress, the Fed, and the Treasury Department for [UBS] on banking and mortgage matters.

Corn spells out how long and intimate Gramm’s relationship with McCain has been:

Gramm’s record as a reckless deregulator has not affected his rating as a Republican economic expert. Sen. John McCain has relied on him for policy advice, especially, according to the campaign, on housing matters. The two have been buddies ever since they served together in the House in the 1980s; in 1996, McCain chaired Gramm’s flop of a presidential campaign. (Gramm spent $21 million and earned only 10 delegates during the GOP primaries.) In 2005, McCain told a Wall Street Journal columnist that Gramm was his economic guru. Two years later, Gramm wrote a piece for the Journal extolling McCain as a modern-day Abraham Lincoln, and he’s hailed McCain’s love of tax cuts and free trade. Media accounts have identified Gramm as a contender for the top slot at the Treasury Department if McCain reaches the White House. “If McCain gets in,” frets Lynn Turner, a former chief SEC accountant, “we’ll have more of the same deregulatory mess. I like John McCain, but given what I know about Phil Gramm, I wouldn’t vote for McCain.”

Gramm recently told a reporter “I don’t have a scarlet ‘L’ burned onto my chest,” referring to the dread lobbyists McCain has been trying to rid his campaign of.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Muckraker
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: