We recently read that politicians were concerned that the government had provided a large amount of bailout funds to CitiGroup, while that financial institution planned to spend $400 million over 20 years for naming rights at the New York Mets' new ballpark. Lawmakers did not want government funds to subsidize the purchase of these naming rights at a baseball stadium. The bank responded that bailout funds were not being used to pay for the naming rights.
CitiGroup is not alone here in responding to such questions from lawmakers. We have heard a number of other questions raised about the activities of various banks. Time and again, we hear banks respond that bailout funds are not being used for this or that activity that is being questioned.
What's wrong here? The banks seem to be forgetting that money is fungible! It's not as if the money raised from private investors cannot be easily substituted or exchanged for the money that's coming from the federal government. There's no difference in those dollars! With limited resources, the banks are making tradeoffs every day about where to put there money. Any dollar dedicated to one activity must mean one less dollar that could be used for another activity. Now, I'm not suggesting that the federal government should intervene and micromanage bank activities. I'm simply say that it's difficult to argue that "bailout funds aren't being used for x, y, or z." When money is fungible, it's hard to make such claims.