Is Larry Summers Taking Kickbacks From the Banks He's Bailing Out?
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Is Larry Summers taking kickbacks from the banks he’s bailing out?
Last month, a little-known company where Summers served on the board of directors received a $42 million investment from a group of investors, including three banks that Summers, Obama’s effective “economy czar,” has been doling out billions in bailout money to: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley. The banks invested into the small startup company, Revolution Money, right at the time when Summers was administering the “stress test” to these same banks.
A month after they invested in Summers’ former company, all three banks came out of the stress test much better than anyone expected -- thanks to the fact that the banks themselves were allowed to help decide how bad their problems were (Citigroup “negotiated” down its financial hole from $35 billion to $5.5 billion.)
The fact that the banks invested in the company just a few months after Summers resigned suggests the appearance of corruption, because it suggests to other firms that if you hire Larry Summers onto your board, large banks will want to invest as a favor to a politically-connected director.
Last month, it was revealed that Summers, whom President Obama appointed to essentially run the economy from his perch in the National Economic Council, earned nearly $8 million in 2008 from Wall Street banks, some of which, like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, were now receiving tens of billions of taxpayer funds from the same Larry Summers. It turns out now that those two banks have continued paying into Summers-related businesses.
According to filings obtained for this story, Summers first joined the board of directors of Revolution Money back in 2006 (when it was called “GratisCard”), the same year that Summers was forced to resign as president of Harvard after his disastrous tenure. Revolution Money/GratisCard was a startup headed by former AOL chief Steve Case. Revolution Money billed itself as the Next Big Thing in online payment, “PayPal meets Mastercard,” according to their own pitch.
In September 2007, Revolution Money announced that it had raised $50 million from a group of investors including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank. Some found the investment strange even then, because normally big banks don’t get involved in seeding small startups -- that’s the domain of venture capitalists, not mega-banks. Especially not in September, 2007, when these same megabanks were Chernobyling their way into full-fledged balance-sheet meltdown.
What seems clear is that at least part of Revolution Money’s success in raising funds is due to their star-studded board of directors -- which included not only Larry Summers, but also the notorious Frank Raines, the former Fannie Mae chief whom Time Magazine named to its “ 25 People To Blame For The Financial Crisis” list. Raines is still a board member.
Over the next year and a half, Revolution Money didn’t quite live up to its promise of competing with PayPal or Visa/Mastercard. At least some of this could be attributed to the difficulty of starting up an online credit card company in the middle of a triple-cluster credit crunch, banking crisis and recession. But there is also evidence that the company wasn’t run well. Another one of Steve Case’s “Revolution” brand startups, “Revolution Health,” (which also features a star-studded board of directors including Carly Fiorina, Colin Powell, and several future-Obama Administration officials) essentially folded last autumn when it was sold to Everyday Health last September and merged into that company’s operations.
In spite of all of this, on April 6, 2009, Revolution Money announced the happy news: it had just successfully raised $42 million dollars in the most difficult market since the 1930s. The investors? Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley -- bankrupt institutions that Larry Summers was transferring billions in bailout funds to.