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Lining Washington's Pockets to the Tune of $1.4 Billion

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Wall Street banks and other financial services groups continued to pour large sums of money into Washington during the 2013–2014 campaign cycle, spending more than $1.4 billion to influence decision making in the nation’s capital during that time period. Those numbers make the financial sector the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties, and the second largest spender on lobbying.

The findings come from Americans for Financial Reform’s “Wall Street Money in Washington” report, released in late March. The report draws on data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which tracks and categorizes campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, as well as contributions reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the Senate Office of Public Records.

The report includes complete lobbying data for 2013 and 2014, and contribution data for the 2013–2014 election cycle reported through March 9, 2015.

The two-year total of $1.4 billion works out to more than $1.9 million a day, and represents an average of about $2.6 million spent to elect or influence each of the 535 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, or about $3,600 per day for each member of Congress, the report states.

More than 340 financial sector companies and trade associations spent at least $500,000 each during this period.

Individuals and entities associated with the financial sector reported making more than $497 million in contributions to federal candidates for office during the 2013–2014 election cycle, with the financial sector contributions being more than twice that of any other specific business sector identified in the Center for Responsive Politics data.

The financial industry reported spending more than $908 million on lobbying in 2013 and 2014, putting the sector in second place behind “miscellaneous business” like companies and trade associations, which spent a bit more than $1 billion.

The miscellaneous business category includes groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($234 million in total expenditures) that also lobby on financial issues.

One of the Chamber’s biggest lobbying missions has been to ensure the Department of Labor’s redraft of its rule to amend the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act doesn’t see the light of day.

David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, said in mid-February that it is prepared to use in 2015 “every tool” it can—including lobbying Congress—to voice its concerns about the DOL’s redraft of its rule to amend the definition of fiduciary on retirement accounts.

Hirschmann argued that the Securities and Exchange Commission is “the primary regulator” regarding fiduciary duties, and that the Chamber “doesn’t want DOL creating another regulatory approach.”

Three industry trade groups have allocated some of their lobbying dollars to fighting DOL’s fiduciary redraft—the Financial Services Roundtable, Financial Services Institute and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

During the two-year cycle, FSR spent a bit more than $12 million, while FSI, which represents independent broker-dealers, spent about $1.4 million on lobbying; SIFMA spent $13.4 million.

Lisa Bleier, SIFMA’s managing director for public policy and advocacy, noted during a mid-March call that DOL sent its fiduciary redraft to the Office of Management and Budget on Feb. 23, and that the redraft “probably won’t be there for the full 90-day” review period. The measure will likely be proposed by DOL in spring or early summer, she predicted.

Ken Bentsen, SIFMA’s president and CEO, noted on the call the “strong bipartisan opposition” to the prior rule issued by DOL in 2010, stating that he believes “there is still bipartisan” opposition to the direction DOL will take with its new plan.

In 2013 and 2014, the financial industry “exceeded” its rate of spending in the 2010 election cycle, when the industry was working to stop or weaken the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as it made its way through Congress, the report notes.

The continued high level of spending reflects what the report states is “the ongoing battle to reshape the financial system and the industry’s persistent efforts to repeal or win exemptions” from parts of Dodd-Frank, “to weaken implementing regulations, and to forestall further proposals for change.”

The Financial Planning Association, however, spent less on lobbying in 2014 ($110,000) than it did in 2013 ($245,000).

Total contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate industries (FIRE) sector equaled about $499 million, with a bit more than 37% of that money going to Democrats and 63% going to Republicans. During the two-year election cycle, the securities and investment industry contributed $16.6 million to members of the Senate Banking Committee and $8.8 million to House Financial Services Committee members, which oversee the SEC.

10 Largest Financial Services Campaign Contributors

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