Obama calls for "shift in ethics" on Wall Street

 

US PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama has called for "a shift in ethics" on Wall Street so that bankers and investors consider the common good as well as personal profits.

Naming three veteran regulators to his economic team yesterday, Mr Obama said tougher oversight was needed to restore transparency and stability to the financial system, blaming the Bush administration for "starting from the premise" that deregulation was always good.

"We have been asleep at the switch - not just some regulatory agencies but some of the congressional committees," Mr Obama said. "We are going to have to greatly strengthen our regulatory apparatus."

Mr Obama chose US Securities and Exchange Commission veteran Mary Schapiro to lead that agency; former Treasury official Gary Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and Georgetown law professor Daniel Tarullo to fill an empty Federal Reserve seat.

"These individuals will help put in place new commonsense rules of the road that will protect investors, consumers and our entire economy from fraud and manipulation by an irresponsible few," Mr Obama said.

"Instead of allowing interests to put their thumbs on the economic scales and CEOs run off with excessive golden parachutes, we'll ensure openness, accountability and transparency in our markets so that people can trust the value of the financial product they're buying. And instead of appointing people with disdain for regulation, I will ensure that our regulatory agencies are led by individuals who are ready and willing to enforce the law."

During yesterday's press conference in Chicago, the president-elect made no direct reference to the controversy over Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested last week on bribery and fraud charges including an alleged attempt to sell Mr Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Illinois legislators yesterday resumed a hearing to impeach the governor after the state's supreme court threw out an attempt by Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan to declare Mr Blagojevich unfit to govern.

"Because of Governor Blagojevich's refusal to resign, the state of Illinois is in an unsustainable situation," Ms Madigan said.

Mr Blagojevich's lawyer, Ed Genson, yesterday appeared before the impeachment panel and questioned the admissibility of the governor's conversations recorded by the FBI. Mr Genson said Ms Madigan, a longtime adversary of the governor, should be removed from the case.

Mr Genson also questioned the strength of the case against Mr Blagojevich, dismissing the recorded conversations as "just talk" and not a crime, and adding that the evidence did not rise to the level of "clear and convincing" proof needed for impeachment.

Former US president Bill Clinton yesterday released the names of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation as part of an agreement with Mr Obama to ease concerns about conflicts of interest if Hillary Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state.

Among the biggest donors are the governments of Saudi Arabia and Norway, the Dubai Foundation and entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Stephen Bing. The list does not specify the precise sums donated but divides donors into ranges of contributions. Michael Smurfit gave between $1 million and $5 million and Irish Aid gave between $500,000 and $1 million.