This post is cross posted at The Sunlight Foundation blog.
Earlier this week, Ryan Grimm reported on the words of Sen. Dick Durbin describing the power of the bankers and financial sector over Congress. Durbin remarked about the banking industry's relation with Congress by saying, "they frankly own the place." 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.
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.
|Lobbying Expenses by the Financial Sector (1997-2008)|
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.