By Richard Bowen
There is no free lunch. Eventually, the chips are called in and someone has to pay. For too long, in the “triangulation war” of citizen versus Wall Street and the government, it’s been the American taxpayer who loses.
Now the debt has increased even further. According to a recent report by Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), during the 2015-16 election cycle, Wall Street banks and financial interests spent more than $2 billion to influence decision making in Washington. Individuals and entities associated with the financial sector gave $1.2 billion in congressional campaign contributions — more than twice the amount given by any other business sector, according to the study, making the financial sector the largest contributor to federal candidates and parties and the third-largest spender on lobbying.
The findings, which were first reported by Politico’s Ben White, show an average contribution of more than $2.7 million a day, and over $3.7 million per each member of Congress. The report, Wall Street Money in Washington, a 62-page examination of political spending, draws on a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics for AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial industry spending than is otherwise possible. As the data cannot include “dark money” that goes unreported, the actual sums of Wall Street spending are surely much higher.
“The entire apparatus of government operates in an environment flooded with millions of dollars in Wall Street cash on a daily basis,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. “If you want to understand why finance too often hurts consumers, investors and businesses far from Wall Street, take a look at these numbers.”
The study points out:
“Since 2008, the financial services industry has consistently spent more money on contributions and lobbying than it did before the crisis. According to the report, this election cycle reflects the highest contributions to date. It appears that financial companies spent almost $900 million on lobbying alone.
This all adds up to a lot of Wall Street big time election spending. So shouldn’t we be asking why? Is it possible, AFR asks that “the numbers reflect the industry’s relentless efforts to roll back financial regulations put in place after the crisis, lobby Congress to weaken the rules, and to forestall deeper changes to the financial system?”
Well, what do you think?
The report also breaks out the contributions to members of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee and highlights a set of conspicuously large contributions to members of Congress from a particular financial firm or industry. Individuals and entities associated with Wells Fargo contributed $14.8 million, with Citigroup spending $13.7 million and Goldman Sachs $12.4 million.
It’s no secret that Wall Street controlled the last administration and it’s shaping up that it will own this one as well. The increase in lobbying will probably mean even more control over government and regulations – in their favor. Wall Street has already gutted some of the specific parts of Dodd-Frank which directly impacted them, which is just one example of the control they’ve exerted on government.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has repeatedly warned of the harm Wall Street can inflict and the power many Wall Street institutions have exerted on government. “In virtually every economic policy discussion held in Washington, the point of view of the Wall Street banks is represented – so well represented in fact; it crowds out any other point of view,” said Warren.
As I said in a previous post, this country is built on the concepts of entrepreneurship, not monopolies who are allowed to have a strategic hold on our government. It’s built on the principles that encourage its citizens to strive to better their circumstances for themselves and their families.
No, there is nothing illegal over Wall Street contributing to this last campaign in record amounts. No, there is nothing illegal in their lobbying. It’s probably not even an ethical issue.
However, it is about accountability. Those who pay feel entitled. They get precedence in the government–Wall Street revolving door. How does one tell the holder of the purse strings: no, we are not going to do it your way? We are not going to write legislation that so blatantly favors you over other banks and financial organizations. Don’t think so.
Money talks. Paying to play means that it’s possible a financial institution could wield such power over Congress that it can dictate what bills are passed. Such power endangers our economy and the very foundation of democracy on which this country was built.