WASHINGTON - Remember the old line from the Pogo comic strip, " We have met the enemy and he is us."
That penultimate observation may say it all when it comes to the current debate over whether federal regulation of the municipal bond market should be significantly tightened.
Whatever solution regulators propose for dealing with political contributions, illegal payoffs, and the inadequacy of secondary market financial disclosure, it is clear that anything that stands a chance of working must involve every participant in the market.
That means everyone from the major players such as issuers, underwriters and bond counsel, to financial advisers and bond insurers, on down to accountants, engineers, and printers.
Unfortunately, the message is not getting across to many issuers.
Consider the letter fired off last week by the National Association of State Treasurers to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. The treasurers warned that federal regulators might violate states' rights if they required state and local officials to disclose political contributions from dealers and other market participants.
After the letter was released, the president of the treasurers group proceeded in an interview to make a very telling statement.
Lucille Maurer, who is also the treasurer of Maryland, said, "If they want to control underwriters, fine. Let the underwriters send it to the MSRB. But don't, in the guise of controlling underwriters, put the burden on the state to determine what they should report and when. Keep us out of it."
Keep us out of it?
That's like saying that the person who offers a bribe to a public official should be prosecuted, while the official who takes the bribe should get off scot-free.
Like it or not, issuers are very much a part of the political contributions and disclosure problem that is plaguing the municipal market.
Certainly, underwriters, attorneys, financial advisers, and any other participant in a deal should be faulted for trying, in effect to buy influence by pouring funds into politicians' campaign coffers.
But the bond issuers are equally guilty when they stand before underwriters and other market participants with their hands out. Everyone knows the unwritten rule that contributions are a prerequisite to doing business.
Issuers are also on thin ice when they continue to argue that federal law should not be changed to require them to improve secondary market disclosure.
The current voluntary standard simply doesn't work because the issuers who need to disclose usually don't.
Issuers are clearly part of both problems.
They also are going to have to be part of the solution.