The Influence Around Us


For a few months now, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has been garnering attention and support around a central frustration over the undue influence of money in politics. Wall Street (hence the OWS moniker) was targeted as the embodiment of corporate excess, economic inequality and a particularly cozy relationship with the federal government. Occupys all over the country have channeled their frustrations over government bailout of banks into catchy protest slogans like:

‘Banks got bailed out, we got sold out’ and ‘Hey, hey, ho, ho, this corporate greed has got to go’.

But the influence of money in politics is not just aggregated in the iconic buildings of Wall Street or the halls of the Capitol. Those businesses and institutions that participate in the game of influencing our federal government are all around us: from the ruby red hue of the Bank of America on the corner to your local fast food joint to the innocuous looking buildings on Wall Street, K Street or Main Street. Without a scarlet L emblazoned on the awnings of the powerful lobbying firms, it is hard to spot the influence with the naked eye (although there is a map of the top ones in DC). But with a little research it’s easy to uncover the influence.

Take for instance the intersection of Connecticut and N Street (scroll over image right) as seen from our offices by Dupont Circle. We have two banks within sight: Wells Fargo and Citibank. For data available from Influence Explorer, Wells Fargo contributed $13.8 million in campaign contributions and spent a total of $24.1 million in lobbying while Citibank dropped $31.1 million into campaign coffers and lobbied to the tune of $108.2 million.* (Just a drop in the bucket compared to the $7.77 trillion the federal government spent to save the financial system as reported recently by Bloomberg News)

But the influence isn’t limited to banks; our neighbors the National Association of Broadcasters (a group representing broadcast networks) donated $9.7 million to political candidates and matched Citibank’s lobbying efforts at $108.2 million. A little further down the street, the Western Coal Traffic League spent $1 million on lobbying efforts to protect the interest of coal product consumers. Even the American Society for Microbiology got into the influence game by throwing $2,415 at candidates and schmoozing legislators for $80,000.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this photo is actually worth roughly $305 million in influence.

Can you spot the influence in your neighborhood?

*Influence Explorer has earliest aggregated data available from 1989 for campaign contributions and lobbying data since 1998.