Consumer Watchdog just finished a big report about all the ways Wall Street is spending money into Congress to neuter financial reform.
After all, it was the financial industry that greased the wheels of deregulation in Congress in the decade leading up to the economic meltdown. Now the big banks and Wall Street are sending legions of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to fight every substantive proposal to overhaul financial regulation.
Our report looked at the extent of their efforts. The financial industry has: given $41 million to members of the Senate Banking Committee (where financial reform legislation is currently waiting for action) since 2005; hosted 43 fundraisers for committee members last year; hired 24 lobbyists who used to work for (or sit on) the Senate Banking committee; and spent $336 million to lobby Congress in just the first three quarters of last year.
Now financial reform still has a good chance, because the President is talking tough about the banks again, and it's a bad idea for politicians to fold to Wall Street while the American public still considers them Public Enemy No. 1. But I was still a little discouraged by the influence that all that money could buy. Until a colleague emailed to remind me not to worry.
You see, today the Supreme Court announced a 5-4 decision to overturn campaign protections that have been in place since President Roosevelt’s time (Teddy, not Franklin) that prevent corporations from spending unlimited amounts of money to buy elections.
Luckily, according to Justice Kennedy, we don’t have to worry about all that money degrading democracy. As he wrote for the Court majority: “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”
So you see, no one – not politicians calculating their re-election chances, and certainly not the voters – needs to worry that Goldman Sachs or Citibank might just threaten to spend millions of dollars to run campaign ads against any Senator who votes to re-regulate the financial industry. The electorate will still have faith, right Justice Kennedy?
If you think that sounds as crazy as I do, our friends at US PIRG (and lots of other groups) have a petition asking Congress to act quickly to fix the Court's fundamental attack on democracy.