The Truth About the Big Banks' Unprecedented Lobbying Avalanche
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Over the course of the financial reform process, the six biggest banks and their murky trade associations have waged an historic assault on democracy, hiring hundreds of revolving door lobbyists and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to push their legislative agenda. I've detailed this all in a comprehensive report for Campaign for America's Future and SEIU, which you ought read because it shows the extent to which these too-big-to-fail bank behemoths own Congress.
The report details how the Big Six banks hired 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 202 who used to work in Congress, as well as others who worked at the Treasury, the White House, or a relevant federal agency like the SEC. This is at best a conflict of interest, and at worst, a takeover of all checks-and-balances on the financial industry.
All of this translates into an average of 40 revolving door lobbyists per big bank.
Previous studies, including one by Public Citizen, have shown that the finance industry is spending $1 million dollars a day to fight financial reform and employing 940 former federal government employees. “Big Bank Takeover” shows that the six biggest banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo -- account for a disproportionate share of this activity.
The revolving door lobbyist number includes 54 former staffers to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services committee (or a current member of that committee), 33 former chiefs of staff, and 28 former legislative directors. Citigroup leads the big banks with 55 revolving door lobbyists, though the federal government was its largest shareholder for much of this period (2009-2010).
These lobbyists left their old jobs for a simple reason: there is a fortune to be made working the halls of Congress on behalf of too-big-to-fail banks. Steve Bartlett, a former member of the House Banking Committee (now the Financial Services Committee), brought home $1.6 million in 2008 as head of the Financial Services Roundtable. SIFMA, another lobby, paid its top official, Timothy Ryan, $2 million in 2008. Ryan is a former JPMorgan executive and former director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.
SIFMA recently hired former Representative Ken Bentsen as head of its DC lobbying operation. Bentsen keeps a framed photograph of a landmark deregulatory bill, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, on the desk of his office, and for good reason: that bill helped spur the growth of megabanks like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America that fund SIFMA and pay his salary.
Bentsen was on the other side of the revolving door when that bill was passed, in 1999 — as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He has a lot of company in that respect: Big Bank Takeover shows that many of these lobbyists worked in government during the 1990s when the too-big-to-fail banking sector got a big boost from bipartisan efforts to deregulate the financial sector.
Former House minority leader Dick Gephardt and Senate majority leader Trent Lott have a combined 16 former staffers who are now working for big banks, including Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Lott and Gephardt are also lobbying for the banks.
Senator Chris Dodd leads current members of Congress with five former staffers now working as big bank lobbyists. One big bank lobbying firm, Porterfield, Lowenthal & Fettig has ties to the Banking committee chair, Chris Dodd, the ranking member, Richard Shelby, and Dodd’s rumored successor as chair, Tim Johnson.
Big money buys this kind of mercenary army. Between campaign contributions, lobbying spending, and trade association activity at SIFMA, the ABA, and elsewhere, the big banks and their main lobbies have spent close to $600 million since the first major federal bailout of the financial sector happened with Bear Stearns in March 2008.