“They Frankly Own The Place”


That title comes from the words of Sen. Dick Durbin describing the power of the bankers and financial sector over Congress. You would think that this might be an exaggeration, or just a rhetorical bit of anti-bank populism, but if you look at the numbers, Durbin isn’t wrong. From 1997 to 2008, financial sector lobbying — represented by the finance, insurance and real estate industries — has amounted to fully 15% of all lobbying spending in Washington.

Lobbying Expenses by the Financial Sector (1997-2008)
2008 $459,312,006
2007 $419,754,990
2006 $375,133,174
2005 $371,666,173
2004 $338,123,874
2003 $324,385,802
2002 $267,586,799
2001 $235,049,868
2000 $230,368,026
1999 $213,801,725
1998 $209,659,907
1997 $177,374,000

Since 1997, the financial sector has spent a combined total of $3.6 billion on lobbying the federal government. The total lobbying expenses have increased by 260% since 1997. Over that same time financial sector corporate profits have gone through the roof, with the financial sector reporting up to 40% of corporate profits in recent years.

Over these eleven years, the industry has gotten pretty much whatever it desires. This is just a sampling of the things obtained by the financial sector: the deregulation of financial derivatives and credit default swaps, the elimination of the line between investment banks and commercial banks, the increased hardship for those filing for bankruptcy, and the total free hand for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to muddle their books and evade responsibility. And all of this has been fueled by the 3,000 or so finance sector lobbyists meeting with, calling up, and emailing congressional offices and executive branch agencies.

It is likely and that there have been tens of thousands, if not more, unreported contacts between financial sector lobbyists and government officials. These contacts have no doubt been aided by the high number of former officials who have taken the revolving door to lobby for the finance sector. According to a report by Essential Information and the Consumer Education Foundation, at least 142 former government officials lobbied on behalf of finance sector firms since 1998. These revolving door lobbyists include at least five former congressmen and dozens of top aides to congressmen, senators, and key congressional committees.

The Obama administration is taking a first step in requiring agency officials to report lobbying contacts as they relate to funds distributed from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Seeing as how the financial sector has been running wild through Washington over the past 11 years — getting whatever it pleases and blocking whatever it doesn’t — Congress, and the administration, should consider requiring the disclosure of these unseen lobbying contacts to help provide the public and officials with better information about the nature of the Washington lobbies, particularly the financial sector lobby.

Both Congress and the people would do better without a single lobby owning the place. Disclosing their lobbying contacts would be a first step in that direction.

All data obtained through the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) site OpenSecrets.org.