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9 Mar, 2017 17:31

Wall Street spent a record $2bn trying to influence US elections – report

Wall Street spent a record $2bn trying to influence US elections – report

Wall Street spent a record $2 billion in contributions to political campaigns during the last US election cycle. The staggering sums made the financial sector by far the biggest business contributors, however the real figure could be much higher.

A new report from Americans for Financial Reform has found that the total amount of money spent on campaign contributions for presidential, Senate, and House of Representatives candidates reached $1.1 billion, with another $898 million spent on lobbying.

The huge sums made the financial sector by far the largest source of campaign contributions. The total is more than $400 million more than was spent during the 2012 election cycle. The daily spend topped $2.7 million and more than $3.7 million was spent per member of congress.

The sector, including both institutions and their individual employees, chipped in nearly twice as much as any other business sector.

The report is based on data from officially reported expenditures which was collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. It details the spending of more than 400 financial companies and trade associations with at least $500,000 in declared lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions.

It reveals that Republicans garnered 55 percent of party-encoded contributions while 45 percent went to Democratic hopefuls. It also showed that donors frequently donated to both parties in a given race.

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“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,” a statement released with the report said.

The list was topped by former presidential candidates Senator Marco Rubio, who raised $8.69 million, and Ted Cruz, who raised $5.48 million. Senator Chuck Schumer, who came in third, was the only Democrat to break into the top five.  

The top spender was the National Association of Realtors who contributed a whopping $118,622,462. Three hedge funds – Renaissance Technologies ($53,479,983), Paloma Partners ($41,334,000) and Elliott Management ($28,020,354) – ranked among the top five individual spenders. The American Bankers Association completed the top five with $25,750,687 in donations.

The biggest spending banks were Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. However, they contributed comparatively modest sums of between $12 million and $15 million.

Despite the outrageously high figures, Americans for Financial Reform note that the actual sums spent by Wall Street are surely much higher as none of the totals include “dark money” from non-profit organizations. Non-profits do not have to disclose who their donors are and they have only to report part of their political spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

“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 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.”

Donner told the Financial Times that much of the lobbying had succeeded in “slowing or weakening” proposed reforms. “That is really what the money story is about,” she said. “We end up with outcomes that are not what people voted for.”

Americans for Financial Reform receives funding from the Democracy Alliance. A network of donors including George Soros.