Commodity Futures Trading Commission member David Gartner is preparing a lawsuit against his fellow commissioners to try to keep them from making public transcripts of confidential commission meetings.
At issue in the dispute is whether the CFTC -- or any other federal regulatory agency -- must make public its internal deliberations.
Gartner said yesterday he fears the effectiveness of the regulatory process will be threatened if transcripts and tape recordings of closed-door CFTC meetings are released.
Earler this month, a Senate subcommittee investigating attempts to corner the market in farm commodities subpeonaed commission records dealing with potential manipulation of commodity markets.
The subcommittee, headed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), asked the CFTC for information about any instances in which a small group of speculators controlled 80 percent or more of the supply of wheat, corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs.
Over Gartner's objections, the CFTC noted 3 to 1 to give the subcommittee confidential information naming the investors who owned huge holdings of commodities as well as transcripts of CFTC meetings at which the holdings are discussed.
Gartner said yesterday he has hired his own lawyer to challenge the commission's action because there is no legal precedent for making public the internal deliberations of a federal regulatory agency.
"The case would be a law professor's dream," said Gartner. He said his attorney, Neal Peterson, is negotiating with the staff of Baucus' subcommittee to try to avoid taking the dispute to court.
"I want to try to avoid people viewing this as a coverup," said Gartner. "I view it as a matter of principle."
Gartner said his concern is that members of federal regulatory agencies will be reluctant to discuss their opinions, even during executive sessions, if their comments can be made public later.
The Baucus subcommittee had asked the CFTC to turn over records to it by today, but extended the deadline a week while attempting to work out a settlement with Gartner.
Subcommittee staff members say they need the transcripts of the CETC's meetings so they can evaluate how the agency has handled situations in which commodity prices might have been inflated improperly by speculators.