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Sunlight is to Lobbyists as Garlic is to Vampires


The US government has dumped billions into the coffers of Citigroup for some preferred stock, and guaranteed a bunch of worthless collateralized debt obligations for some more preferred. Their failed board of directors and top management are still in place, and we didn’t wipe out their shareholders, who stand to reap enormous rewards from our largesse, and we didn’t claw back the bonus pool from the bad bankers. Our reward for this incomparable generosity? In the fourth quarter alone, Citi took $1.77 million of our dollars, and spent it on lobbyists. It might be that Citi wants stuff from Congress that is in the national interest, but somehow I doubt it.

Bank of America, recipient of more billions, says it isn’t lobbying, but it can take comfort in knowing that the American Bankers Association is fighting for its interests.

“Nobody mentioned that you are giving up your Constitutional right to petition the government” when accepting federal money, said Edward L. Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association.

Is it just me, or does that sound arrogant? One of the ABA goals is to fight off the Chapter 13 cramdown supported by the Obama administration and the Democrats, not to mention FDL’s own Ian Welsh, not to mention the excellent Yves Smith, who points out the empirical data here, and certainly not to mention me.

So, one way or another, we are paying bankers to lobby against the interests of all of us. That sucks.

It’s common to hear people complain about lobbyists, but whining isn’t going to change anything. Kirsten Gillibrand has been doing something about it:

In Washington, Ms. Gillibrand has made a calling card of transparency, posting a “Sunlight Report” on her Congressional Web site that lists her meetings with lobbyists as well as the names of those seeking government grants known as earmarks. Some senior colleagues, in a club where such names are often considered state secrets, complain that this tended to make them look bad.

Look bad? Really? Since new Senator Gillibrand’s House website is unavailable, I don’t know exactly what it actually does. So, here’s a list of things I would like to see: the names of the lobbyists, the entity they represent, the issue they talked about, and a copy of any written materials provided. If we had that, we could actually respond with our own analysis.

Of course, we know that this means that lobbyists on our side are exposed to comment as well. If Planned Parenthood visits, the material goes on-line for analysis by the right-to-lifers. If Katie Porter shows up to argue for the cramdown, Phil Corwin of the American Bankers Association will be there too. The good news is that when Corwin tries to say that the cramdown is the work of the devil, and will drive up mortgage rates and destroy the financial system, we can focus directly on his bogus argument with our own materials. For example, we could point out that the price increases for mortgage credit arise from the fears of the banking industry, citing this article:

While rates are falling, borrowers face higher costs every step of the way, from rising fees for mortgage insurance to added costs that drive up the mortgage rate. At the same time, lenders have become more cautious about whom they will lend to, as more people lose their jobs, watch their incomes decline and fall behind on their bills.

On Monday, I am going to fax a letter to my congressman asking him to do this. I will follow up with a phone call. There isn’t any reason Jim Cooper shouldn’t do this. We should all insist on this level of transparency. President Obama agrees. Anyone else?

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