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Franken aims at reform of credit-rating system

What is Democratic Sen. Al Franken's big idea to clean up the credit rating system? Transparency.

What is Democratic Sen. Al Franken's big idea to clean up the credit rating system? Transparency.

Franken, a junior senator from Minnesota, criticizes the Securities and Exchange Commission's inaction on a 2010 amendment he sponsored that would have eliminated conflicts of interest in the credit-rating business model.

"Our financial system is kind of rigged," Franken said in his first prime-time interview Monday with The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

Franken wants to institute an independent board made up of investors, financial analysts and bankers who would determine rating criteria, instead of the ratings firms.

"They made a lot of money, but Americans lost trillions of dollars, they lost their homes, lost their businesses, they lost their pension savings, they lost their jobs," Franken said of the failure of the ratings process that contributed to the financial collapse of 2008.

"Minnesotans lost their jobs because the credit rating agencies didn’t do the only job they're supposed to have, the only job they had, which is to give accurate, objective ratings to financial products," he said.

The current system also allows Wall Street firms to choose—and then pay—the credit ratings agency that will award them the highest rating, an inherent problem that Franken seeks to eradicate. Since Franken's proposed measure to the Wall Street reform act of 2010, very little has changed, and an SEC report has proposed more discussion, rather than an overhaul.

A round-table hearing will be held Tuesday to discuss the credit-rating agencies' business model with representatives from the financial services industry, analysts, and investors. Skeptics of the proposed independent board have warned that rating agencies will in turn become a government-endorsed ratings assignment board, leading the to further bureaucracy.

But Franken argues that eliminating problematic relationships through an independent board would address the conflicts of interest, heighten transparency, and clean up the credit rating system.

"It all goes back to this conflict of interest. It would be like a figure skater bribing the judges and they’re all giving 10's," Franken said.