A question of timing 

Standard & Poor's will just have to forgive state Sen. Vincent Fort. How can they really fault the Atlanta Democrat for having some questions? All he did was add up a few details of the company's decision to stop rating Georgia mortgage-backed securities Feb. 1 because of its concerns over the state's tough predatory lending law. The coincidences might make most impartial observers scratch their heads.

After all, Republicans are in control of the Senate and the governor's mansion, and most importantly, the Georgia Fair Lending Act's champion, former Gov. Roy Barnes, has been vanquished.

Fort wrote Standard & Poor's a stinging letter last week that questions whether subprime lending companies improperly influenced the rating agency before it made its decision. In the letter to S&P President Leo C. O'Neill, Fort names a series of companies involved in subprime lending -- Ameriquest Mortgage Company, Wells Fargo Bank and CitiCorp Mortgage Securities Inc., for example -- and asks whether the ratings agency accepted any payments from the companies.

Fort also cites a Jan. 27 Wall Street Journal story in which the paper reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission has told Congress that it plans to look into anti-competitive practices and "possible conflicts of interest that result from rating agencies' getting paid by companies whose debt securities they rate ... "

A S&P spokeswoman denied receiving any influence from subprime lenders, however, Fort has been granted a meeting with O'Neill. It's unclear whether that will be before or after the General Assembly votes on changes to the Fair Lending Act, which could happen as early as this week.

On Jan. 30, Moody's Investors Service issued a statement that endorsed proposed changes to the predatory lending act.

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