Washington’s Wall Street Sugar Daddies

Written by Hillary Lehr

How much is democracy worth to you?

If you’re like most people, it’s priceless. But for the hedge funds and insurance companies on Wall Street, it does have a price tag. And now, thanks to a new report by Global Exchange, we know the number on it: approximately $4.2 billion. That’s how much the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (F.I.R.E.) sector has invested in political influence through campaign contributions and lobbying since 2006. That comes to $1,331 a minute spent on political power.

The new report is called “Meet the F.I.R.E. Sector: How Wall Street Is Burning Democracy.” It was developed by Elect Democracy, a nonpartisan effort by Global Exchange to expose and challenge the impact of corporate money in U.S. politics. The report contains extensive research tracking Wall Street’s investment in political power, and analyzes exactly how Wall Street has secured what Global Exchange calls “industry-loyal voting practices” in Congress: by shoveling stacks of campaign cash in the direction of Congressional hopefuls from both major political parties.

That money lets these industries get what they want in Washington. The F.I.R.E. sector contributed $879 million to members of Congress since 2006, and took positions on 383 bills during the 112th Congress. For instance, they supported Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Panama, and Colombia in 2007, and backed the bailout in 2008. Bills they opposed include the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, the Limited Homeowner and Investor Loss in Foreclosure Act of 2010, and the Stop Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2011.

At every turn, the F.I.R.E. sector demands special treatment for Wall Street while consumers, homeowners, and students get stuck with the bills. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it an interview with MSNBC this May, “Wall Street is extraordinarily powerful. Congress doesn’t regulate them. The big banks regulate what Congress does.”

That’s no exaggeration. The Wall Street banks that received the lion’s share of the $700 billion bailout in 2008 comprise the most vocal and deep-pocketed opposition to regulation of risky financial practices.

Follow the Money

Luckily, the F.I.R.E sector does have a weakness. It only works in the dark. When people know that their representatives are only supporting Wall Street causes because they’ve been bought off, they tend to stop wanting to vote for those representatives.

Elect Democracy has used the report to develop a new legislative scorecard that makes it easy for you to trace how your legislators voted on key issues such as the bank bailout, Wall Street reform, and free trade agreements. Not only that, but you can see for yourself how much money they received in campaign contributions from the F.I.R.E. sector, as well as what we call their “industry loyalty voting rate.”

Global Exchange researchers calculated that rate for each Congressperson by comparing how often their votes matched the F.I.R.E. sector’s lobbying position on the seven bills examined in the scorecard. As it turns out, the representatives who received the 25 biggest campaign contributions from the F.I.R.E. sector voted identically to Wall Street’s lobby position 73 percent of the time, while the average House “loyalty rate” was a mere 56 percent.

Many complex factors affect how legislators vote, but corporate sponsorship shouldn’t be one of them. Even on Wall Street’s gilded beltway, the F.I.R.E sector companies can’t literally buy political representation—at least, not yet. Instead, they use money to buy influence over voters to elect certain legislators, who they then use lobbyists to influence.

Most Americans value democracy and despise corruption, so a spotlight on this process could leave the F.I.R.E. sugar daddies powerless. The more toxic bank money candidates accept, the more vulnerable they are to having the source of their money exposed.

The goals of this project are not to tell anyone who to vote for, but to get everyone to follow the money; not to influence the outcome of any one election, but to spark dialogue about accountability and transparency, and to stop Wall Street from burning our priceless democracy; to together expose how Wall Street’s campaign money is toxic for democracy, and amplify the message that our democracy is not for sale.

This post was originally published by Yes! Magazine.


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Photo: Kaptain Karrot/flickr


Sue H.
Sue H1 years ago

I guess that no one wanted to post October 5, 2016 "Causes" articles today??

rene davis
irene davis5 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago


Dr Clue
Dr Clue5 years ago

@David F.[DRC. I detect some irritation by a foreigner that has no clue of world history and the positive influence this country has on a good part of the planet. Many foreigners do wish their country had the freedom and wealth of the USA. The gauge would be the number of people trying to immigrate vs. the people that want to leave. I’m with you there.]

There is no intention here to hold up a mythical version of America. The expression made to @Hugo C. was simply that those operating as the hand in the glove of our government operate as the hands in the gloves of governments around the globe.

Much effort is made to swaddle those multi-national corporate goals in twisted versions of nationalistic and partisan ideologies. The reason they do so is that they have had great success in gutting countries in such fashion.

Frances C.
Frances C5 years ago

Robert H. Great comment on Aug 19, 2:26 pm. I agree with everything you said. W Bush absolutely destroyed our economy, and almost sent us into another great depression. W played at being president like he played being an oil man, a military man, a baseball owner. His daddy and his powerful friends handed it all to Jr. The power went to his head i.e. the Iraq war. And the large tax cuts for himself, his family, and his wealthy donors.

Unfortunately the same people who gave us Jr. are trying to foist R&R, Repeal&Ruin, on us. Rove, Cheney, Koch bros, Gingrich, Trump, and more of the same gang.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue5 years ago

@Hugo C. [DEMOCRACY IN THE U.S. please get real, everyone knows, outside the U.S., that you are run by corporations, the war machine is what keeps your country afloat.]

One thing you seem to miss is that the hands in the gloves of America's government are not limited to manipulations of the US ,owe no allegiance to any flag nor country and are the hand in the glove of all governments.

Ori M.
oriana M5 years ago

It would be nice if corporations didn't constantly invest in our politicians but let's face it: we're never going to have ploiticians who aren't corrupt. Everybody is ruled by money to some extent.

Hugo C.
Hugo C.5 years ago

DEMOCRACY IN THE U.S. please get real, everyone knows, outside the U.S., that you are run by corporations, the war machine is what keeps your country afloat, and the true democracies have been crushed by your money backed governments since the days that chile, Guatemala, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iran, Cogo, showed the real birth of democracy, IN THIRLD WORLD COUNTRIES, your conglommerate of states are OWNED by the industrialists, the media moguls, banks. by the way, AMERICANS are all the persons born and raised from land if fire in Argentina all the way to the Yukon, YOU ARE THE ANGLO AMERICANS IF WE ARE the latin americans. U.S. the most manipulated and indoctrinated people in the world, that is why you come out of you cities and farms affraid of insecurity in the countries you vacation at, forgetting it is YOUR GOVERNMENT the one that promotes the arms production and sales, there you have PERFECTLY NORMAL CITIZENS shooting randonmly at your own.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue5 years ago

@David F [DRC, Amazing how so many people are bamboozled into progressive socialism.]

Amazing how some , even when repeatedly provided the actual definition of socialism choose either by ignorance or dishonesty to continue wielding the word like a magic wand.

Obeying the US Constitution's mandate to promote and "provide for the general welfare", is not socialism.

noun so·cial·ism /ˈsōSHəˌlizəm/ 
(A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole)

The misuse of the word "socialism" is but a McCarthy style method of bamboozling the public into supporting constitutional subversion used to champion the cause of corporatism.

noun cor·po·rat·ism /ˈkôrp(ə)rəˌtizəm/ 
(The control of a state or organization by large interest groups.)

Toby S.
Past Member 5 years ago

Steve you say: "You talk about a "real solution" - and just what would that be?"

Perhaps you can't read Steve, because time and again I call for a second currency that is controlled and issued by the US Treasury, a US Treasury Dollar, as a solution to the debt money monopoly. I can't recall you EVER responding with a cogent response.

All I see out of your claptrap is blame Obama this, blame Obama that. I'm not a liberal but the present group of crazies, like yourself, who can't discern reality from their Tea Party propaganda of hate has motivated me to fight against them. I'm not particularly for Obama but against this hateful Tea Party you so love.