Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Corruption of the UC Regents

An eight-part investigative report on the UC Regents and their financial conflicts of interest, written by Peter Byrne, is being published in the Berkeley Daily Planet. The first part appeared yesterday:
Our eight-month investigation reveals that some members of the regents’ investment committee, who are also Wall Street heavy-hitters, have modified long-standing investment policies in a way that benefited their own financial holdings. The fallout: multiple conflicts of interest.

The changes can be traced to 2003, when regents Gerald Parsky, Richard C. Blum, and Paul Wachter—all financiers by trade—took control of UC’s investment strategy. Sitting on the board’s investment committee, the three men steered away from investing in more traditional instruments, such as blue-chip stocks and bonds, toward largely unregulated “alternative” investments, such as private equity and private real estate deals. According to UC internal reports, the dramatic investment change has led to an “overweighting” of investments in private equity. One concerned regent has likened the change to “gambling in Las Vegas.”

The changes did not stop there.

By-passing the university treasurer’s in-house investment specialists, the regents investment committee hired private managers to handle many of these new kinds of less-regulated transactions. This action theoretically placed some distance between the personal financial holdings of regents and the investments made on behalf of the UC endowment and retirement funds. But it also served to increase management costs, and to limit the transparency around UCs investments, since these “external” managers are not subject to the same public disclosure laws that apply to university operations.

Unfortunately, many of these deals, while potentially lucrative, have lost significant amounts of money for UC’s retirement and endowment funds, which were worth $63 billion at the end of 2009. (These losses ultimately reduce the amount spent on education, since the endowment supports teaching activities.) And the non-transparency of these private deals enabled multiple conflicts of interest to arise without challenge.

Specifically, our investigation shows that, under the new regime on the investment committee, UC placed $2 billion into a series of private deals and publicly held enterprises with significant ties to the business activities of four regents: Wachter, Blum, Sherry Lansing, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Read the whole thing, and keep an eye out for the rest of the series.

No comments:

Post a Comment