The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday there was no connection between the timing of the agency's fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and efforts in the Senate to speed passage of sweeping legislation overhauling financial regulation.
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro was speaking to a Senate panel weighing the agency's budget request. Some Republicans have accused the SEC of timing the April 16 announcement of civil fraud charges against Goldman to bolster prospects for the legislation, now at a critical stage in the Senate.
Schapiro, asked if there was a connection, said "absolutely not. We don't time our enforcement actions by the legislative calendar or by anybody else's wishes."
"We bring our cases when we have the law and the facts we believe support bringing our cases," Schapiro said in answer to a question from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
The panel is assessing the SEC's request for about $1.3 billion for the budget year starting Oct. 1, a 12 percent increase from the current year.
Schapiro reaffirmed that there was no link between the timing of the agency lawsuit against Goldman, which followed a monthslong investigation of the investment bank, and the push for the legislation in the Senate. Last week, amid Republican speculation, President Barack Obama denied any White House involvement in the timing of the SEC case.
The intrigue was heightened by the revelation that the SEC commissioners approved filing of the charges against Goldman on a 3-2 vote, along party lines, with both Republicans opposing the move.
At the request of Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the SEC inspector general said recently he will investigate whether anyone at the agency may have disclosed or discussed the Goldman case with an administration official in order to affect the debate over the financial overhaul bill.
The agency's charges against Wall Street's most powerful firm did embolden Democrats in their criticism of Republicans who oppose the Obama administration's financial overhaul proposal, even though measures in the plan might not have prevented the transactions said to be involved in the Goldman case.
The SEC's suit accuses the firm of misleading investors about securities backed by subprime home loans. The agency alleged that Goldman concocted mortgage investments without telling buyers they had been put together with help from a hedge fund client, Paulson & Co., that was betting on the investments to fail.
Goldman disputes the charges and says it will contest them in court.
Goldman executives made their case Tuesday in the court of public opinion, as they appeared before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and defended the firm's conduct in the run-up to the financial crisis. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein told skeptical senators that clients who bought mortgage securities from the firm in 2006 and 2007 came looking for risk "and that's what they got."
The Senate investigative panel alleges that Goldman bet against its clients — and the housing market — by taking short positions on mortgage securities, and failed to tell them that the securities it was selling were very high risk.
Democrats hoped the explosive hearing also would build momentum for the financial overhaul legislation in the Senate. On Wednesday, Republicans dropped their objections to Democratic efforts to begin debate on the bill, ending GOP tactics that had stalled it.
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