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Fed to release loan data after appeal tossed

High Court ruling reveals bailouts

By Jesse J. Holland
Associated Press / March 22, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court decided yesterday not to stop the release of Federal Reserve Board documents identifying financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the financial crisis.

The high court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal from an association of bankers trying to keep the information from becoming public.

News Corp.’s Fox News Network LLC and Bloomberg LP had sued separately for details about loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. Other news agencies, including the Associated Press, filed briefs with the appellate court in their support.

The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City had said that such information is not automatically exempt from requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the Fed had argued that if it identified banks that drew emergency loans, it could cause a run on those institutions, undermine the loan programs, and potentially hurt the economy. The Fed acts as lender of last resort for banks that cannot get money from private sources.

The Fed said in a statement that it would “fully comply’’ with the court’s decision and was preparing to make the information available. The Fed noted that some of the information relating to emergency lending was already released Dec. 1 under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.

The Obama administration had asked the high court not to hear the appeal. But The Clearing House Association, which represents some of the nation’s largest banks, wanted the high court to review the decision. The Clearing House Association said it was “disappointed’’ that its petitions were rejected.

In the Fox case, the appeals court ruled that the documents should be available for review by news organizations and the public. In the Bloomberg case, the court rejected the Fed’s argument that identifying the banks and providing other information would harm them and discourage other distressed banks from seeking the Fed’s help. The court said the disclosure requirements under FOIA are set by Congress, not the court.

“The Federal Reserve forgot that it is the central bank for the people of the United States and not a private academy where decisions of great importance may be withheld from public scrutiny,’’ said Bloomberg News editor in chief Matthew Winkler. “As only Congress has the constitutional power to coin money, Congress delegates that power to the Fed and the Fed must be accountable to Congress, especially in disclosing what it does with the people’s money.’’

Last year Congress passed legislation requiring the release of some of the information being fought over in this lawsuit.