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As Federal Reserve Rebuffs FOIA, Shields Capital One and M&T, For Now

By Matthew R. Lee

SOUTH BRONX, January 7 -- The Federal Reserve is covering up the performance of Capital One on commitments it made before getting approval for its protested acquisition of ING DIRECT.

  The Fed is withholding over 2200 pages responsive to an Inner City Press request under the Freedom of Information Act filed in April for "records concerning Capital One's compliance, since the FRB's approval order on Capital One - ING DIRECT, including with Capital One's commitments to open branches and lend $180 billion."

  After delaying ruling from April until January 2012, Governor Jerome Powell on January 2 denied access to each and every page, calling it supervisory and confidential business information and saying that no "segregable" portion could be identified or released. The FOIA appeal denial is online here.

  How can the public assess the Federal Reserve's credibility in following up on the bank commitments it relies on in its own merger approval orders, if the Fed insists on withholding every single record?

  Inner City Press, along with other members of NCRC, has put this question to the Federal Reserve Board. Governor Daniel Tarullo, previously in charge of FOIA for the Fed, told Inner City Press he understood the problem.

  But nothing was done. Now pro-industry Governor Jerome "Jay" Powell, previously of Deutsche Bank and the Carlyle Group, has been put in charge of FOIA and as forseen he is denying appeal after appeal.

  After delaying more than 40 days to rule on Inner City Press' FOIA appeal of withholdings about the proposed merger of M&T and Hudson City Bancorp, challenged by NCRC members including ICP, Powell in a seven page ruling found that the Fed mis-invoked FOIA exemptions 6 and 8 -- but then refused to release the information, now invoking exemption 4. Seems they just make it up as they go along.

  In another pending merger case, from FirstMerit's submission to the Federal Reserve about Citizens Republic the Fed provided this to Inner City Press under FOIA:

"To facilitate secure email exchanges with the Federal Reserve, please see the attached file and link thatcontain instructions for registering with the Zix e-mail system. The web address is https:// WITHHELD"

  That is, even the way / address through which banks communicate with the Fed is withheld from the public.

  This is at odds, for example, with FOIA appeal responses obtained this year by Inner City Press from other Federal agencies, such as even, on a first appeal, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its Voice of America.

   In other FOIA news, Inner City Press is a media amicus in this just filed brief in McBurney v. Young, No. 12-17 of the US Supreme Court.

  The advocacy, especially given the harm done to communities and taxpayers by the Fed's mis-regulation and bailouts, continues. The proposed merger of Investors and Roma is being looked at. On another pending merger, back in August, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch wrote to Customers Bancorp for its mortgage data, expressing some concerns.

  A month later, at the deadline, some data was provided. It was disparate and Inner City Press comments on Customers' Acacia application. There were questions from the Federal Reserve, some FOIA requests.

  Now, Customer's has passed back the drop-dead date from December 31 to January 31. But how do they know it will be approved by then? Maybe they are communicating through the Fed's "secret" window. Watch this site.

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