Why, asks Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky in a new report, did the US Treasury give Radnor-based Lincoln National Corp. nearly $1 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program money, when Lincoln's business has "little to do with lending to consumers and businesses?"
Barofsky also questioned the $3.4 billion TARP invested in Hartford Financial Services Group. Giving giving Lincoln and Hartford money "was incongruous with the spirit and intent" of the TARP capital program, which was to boost lending at a time when banks were cutting back.
If Treasury wanted to use the money for something else, like bailing out life insurance salesmen (and helping them compete with rivals that weren't bailed out), it should have written them into the program - as it did with General Motors and Chrysler, Barofsky wrote. Read his report here.
Lincoln is based in Radnor, and operates largely through insurance subsidiaries in Indiana, North Carolina and other states. It's best known locally for its 20-year, $140 million name-brand sponsorship of the NFL Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field.
Both Lincoln and Hartford, the former prosecutor says, have done a great job tracking every TARP dollar, where it comes from and where it goes - proving this can be done by bailout recipients, despite bank ceos' past claims to the contrary.
To get TARP money, both Lincoln and Hartford had to buy tiny savings banks so they qualified for the funds. The banks are so small they would never have justified billion-dollar investments. But TARP rules allowed the companies to add their insurance assets to the banks' paltry loan portfolios, so they could raise much more from taxpayers.
What'd they do with the money? For every TARP dollar, Lincoln says it "can support roughly 20 times that amount" in new insurance and retirement-product sales, Barofsky reported. "TARP funds will allow the company to expand its business." Lincoln saw TARP as a way to sell more "individual annuities, life insurance and group business."
Lincoln did invest TARP funds in corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which "indirectly support the extension of credit to institutions and individuals," as TARP was intended, the report acknowledges.
But Lincoln has a "strong" financial position and was "viable without TARP funds," even after losing money when investment values fell last fall, according to Barofksy. The company has said it plans to pay the money back within five years; it's already paying dividends on Treasury's investment.
The report includes a letter from Assistant Treasury Secretary Herbert M. Allison Jr, who defends the Lincoln and Hartford investments and noted bank regulators approved both, as required under TARP rules. But Allison's defense "misses the point," Barofsky wrote. TARP was supposed to re-start stalled credit markets, not guarantee certain companies could sell more insurance than they could otherwise have afforded.
Lincoln and Treasury haven't returned my calls seeking comment.