The Government as Shareholder and Political Risk: Procedural Protections in the Bailout
Matthew R. Shahabian
In the wake of the fall of Lehman Brothers and the surrounding financial instability, Congress passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, giving the Treasury Department unprecedented power to intervene directly in the financial markets and the economy at large. Though the original intention of the bill was for Treasury to purchase “toxic” assets from financial institutions in order to bring immediate relief to the financial sector, the Treasury Department instead purchased equity from such institutions and became the largest shareholder of corporations like Citigroup, A.I.G., and Bank of America. As a shareholder, the government possessed great informal influence over corporate policy—influence that it did not hesitate to exercise. This influence, paired with the lack of judicial review in the bailout bill, created a new kind of political risk for investors uncertain of whether the government would use its shareholder position to advance its own political goals. This Note analyzes and evaluates this political risk created by government control and explains why neither administrative law nor corporate law constrained the government as shareholder in the financial crisis following Lehman’s failure. Given that the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act fails to address what the government should do in the event of a future financial crisis, this Note suggests a clearer outline for the government’s role in corporate management when it acts as a shareholder and argues for judicialreview to provide procedural protections to shareholders, thereby reducing political risk.