Wall Street to Washington


The complete meltdown in subprime mortgages has caused a total makeover of the investment industry. The effect of the makeover on Wall Street will trickle down to Washington, with diminished campaign contributions, lobbyists out of work, and new bills and regulations to wrangle over.

First came the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The home loan giants were two of the biggest names in the Washington influence game over the past decade. The two organizations spent a combined $200 million on lobbying over the last ten years and, since 1990, have contributed $19.5 million to political campaigns. It is no wonder that Fannie and Freddie avoided the crucial scrutiny that they needed over the last ten years. And now, Fannie and Freddie’s lobbying shops are shuttered, their political contributions are cut off, and they will no longer throw extravagant fetes for lawmakers and cabinet secretaries.

Yesterday’s collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Bank of America takeover of Merrill Lynch, and today’s AIG firesale, will cause similar aftershocks in Washington. Since 1989, these companies have contributed millions to federal candidates for election:

Merrill Lynch – $14.7 million

Lehman Brothers – $9.2 million

AIG – $9.7 million

The fall-off in campaign contributions from these companies will likely spread to the entire securities and investment industry. The Wall Street Journal points out that during the 2008 election cycle securities and investment contributions are the 2nd largest source of money for Democratic candidates and the 3rd largest source for Republicans. Already those contributions have slowed over the summer months preceding this crisis.

Lobbying spending is likely to shift, but probably not drop-off. Since 1998, Merrill Lynch spent $39.3 million on lobbying in Washington. That account will likely be wiped out for now, as Bank of America takes over for them. Lehman Brothers, which was denied help during their collapse, is a smaller player in Washington with $6.3 million in lobbying expenses since 1998. The events of the past few days have completely wiped out the lobbying enterprises of two companies that spent over $45 million over the decade.

The securities and investment industry is one of the biggest spenders on lobbying Washington. Since 1998, this industry has pumped $551 million into influencing decision makers in Washington. Over the past two years, 2007-2008, the industry spent over $132 million on lobbying.

With the raft of new legislation and regulations about to break through like storm surge over New Orleans levees, the industry, despite its massive financial problems, can’t afford to cut their lobbying expenses. Some lobbyists may wind up out of a job, but there will always be new ones to take their place.

(All totals calculated from data available at OpenSecrets.org.)