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Wall Street Money In 2019-20 Election Cycle Hits Highest Level Ever

Financial sector pumps $2.9 billion in lobbying and campaign cash into politics

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, Hornady

Washington — During the 2019-20 election cycle, Wall Street spent at least $2.9 billion on campaign contributions and lobbying to influence policy in Washington, according to a report released today by Americans for Financial Reform. That total, which amounts to $4 million a day, shatters the previous record of $2 billion set in the 2015-16 presidential cycle.

The highest-ever level of spending by Wall Street banks and financial services reflects the industry’s relentless push to influence decision-making, regardless of the party that controls Congress or the executive branch. Notably, the amount of money Wall Street donated to organizations making independent expenditures more than doubled, to $981.5 million, over the last president cycle.

“The enormous sums that Wall Street has at its disposal, combined with a broken campaign finance system, means there is little practical limit to the amount of money the financial services industry can inject into American debate on politics and policy,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. “Year in and year out, this torrent of money gives Wall Street an outsized role in how we are governed, while driving and protecting policies that help this industry’s super wealthy amass even greater fortunes at the expense of the rest of us.”

In particular, the financial sector spent an extraordinary amount of money in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to preserve Republican control of the Senate and maintain a divided government that would lock in deregulation and tax cuts enacted under President Trump and prevent financial reform legislation. AFR documented that trend during the 2020 campaign.

The 90-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington,” provides a comprehensive examination of the financial sector’s political spending based on an exclusive data set curated by the Center for Responsive Politics for AFR. In particular, the data excludes health insurers from the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector since their issue set differs from the rest of the sector.

Finally, in a special section, the report takes a closer look at the Wall Street donations that went to the 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to certifying the election in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

In this election cycle, individuals and entities associated with the financial sector reported making $4,971,464 in contributions to the 8 Republican Senators and $38,512,126 to the 139 House members who voted to overturn the election (as reported by February 17, 2021), for a total of $43,483,590.

Highlights of the report include:

Campaign Contributions. Individuals and entities associated with the financial sector reported making $1,964,240,861 in contributions to federal candidates for office during this election cycle (2019–20 for House and Senate candidates, plus the presidential election) through December 31, 2020 (as reported by February 17, 2021). The financial sector’s contributions were significantly greater than those of any other specific business sector identified in the Center for Responsive Politics data. Of the $982,775,706 in party-coded contributions by individuals and PACs associated with finance, 47% went to Republicans and 53% went to Democrats.

The Center for Responsive Politics has estimated that the 2020 federal elections cost at least $14.4 billion, a record figure that includes $1.05 billion in “dark money” whose original source is unknown. Thus, total Wall Street spending account for,  at a minimum – because it is impossible to track dark money from the industry – 1 in 7 dollars that financed the 2020 federal elections, the most expensive ever.

Lobbying. The financial sector reported spending a total of $932,893,242 on lobbying in calendar years 2019 and 2020. This puts the sector in third place among industries, behind the “Health” sector, which spent $1,219,454,270 and the “Miscellaneous Business” companies and trade associations, which spent $1,000,018,637. The Miscellaneous Business category includes some groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce ($165,808,857 total expenditures), that also lobby extensively on financial regulation issues.

Big Spenders. The 20 companies and trade associations in the financial sector with the highest level of combined spending on lobbying and contributions (from their PACs and employees) were:

  • Bloomberg LP — $157,855,763
  • National Association of Realtors (NAR) — $154,262,353
  • Fahr LLC (Tom Steyer) — $70,704,382
  • Citadel LLC — $69,250,666
  • Blackstone Group — $49,503,487
  • Charles Schwab & Co — $35,550,426
  • Susquehanna International Group — $30,666,787
  • American Bankers Association (ABA) — $26,575,122
  • Paloma Partners — $25,535,794
  • Bain Capital — $22,048,292
  • Renaissance Technologies — $21,322,677
  • Stephens Group — $18,390,228
  • Elliott Management — $17,074,646
  • Wells Fargo — $16,739,678
  • Intercontinental Exchange Inc — $16,220,052
  • Lone Pine Capital — $15,223,525
  • Ryan Specialty Group — $15,128,052
  • Euclidean Capital — $14,397,845
  • American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) — $13,919,735
  • Securities Industry & Financial Market Association (SIFMA) — $13,784,856

Independent Organization Recipients. In addition to contributing to candidates directly, financial sector individuals, PACs, companies, and labor unions also contributed to independent organizations — Super PACs, Carey committees, and “dark money” organizations (politically-active 501(c)4 non-profits). These independent organizations then spent this money promoting or attacking candidates, mostly through advertising. The 10 recipients of the largest amounts from the financial sector were:

  • Senate Leadership Fund — $183,552,034
  • Senate Majority PAC — $69,829,029
  • Independence USA PAC — $67,337,350
  • House Majority PAC — $54,436,642
  • Congressional Leadership Fund — $51,230,187
  • America First Action — $48,756,612
  • NextGen Climate Action — $47,927,854
  • Priorities USA Action — $46,231,421
  • Club for Growth Action — $26,629,150
  • American Bridge 21st Century — $21,070,664

Congressional Recipients. Candidates who are now members of Congress received contributions from the financial sector to their campaign committees and leadership PACs totaling $310,997,155 in 2019–20 (reported through February 17, 2021).