Marketplace Scratch Pad

Bailed out companies still lobbying away

Scott Jagow Apr 22, 2009

The big companies that took TARP money and other government funding spent $10 million in the first three months of the year on lobbying the government. The Washington Post cites Senate disclosure records that say GM, Citigroup and JP Morgan put the most money into lobbying efforts.

From the Post:

The reports revived objections from advocacy groups and some lawmakers, who say firms should not be lobbying against stricter oversight at the same time they are receiving billions from the government through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.

“Taxpayers are subsidizing a legislative agenda that is inimical to their interests and offensive to what the whole TARP program is about,” said William Patterson, executive director of CtW Investment Group, which is affiliated with a coalition of labor unions. “It’s business as usual with taxpayers picking up the bill.”

And as usual, the companies are saying, hey, we’re not using any TARP or government money to pay for this lobbying. It’s coming from another part of our budget:

GM spokesman Greg Martin said that maintaining a lobbying presence is vital to ensure that the automaker has a say when major policy decisions are made. “We are part of what is arguably one of the most regulated industries, and we provide a voice in very complicated policy debates,” Martin said.

Citigroup spent some of its lobbying money on resisting credit card regulations, student loan policies and patent and trademark issues. Citi also lobbied hard against a bill that would’ve imposed a 90% tax on bonuses for employees making more than $250,000 at bailed-out companies. The bill didn’t make it through the Senate.

Talk about a vicious circle. The government says here, take this money. Or the companies say please, give us some money. So the money goes from the taxpayer to the companies, then to the lobbyists (not the exact same dollar bills, though). The lobbyists try to convince the government not to impose regulation on the companies that are now obliged to the government financially. The government doesn’t pass the regulations because of the lobbying, but because of the lack of regulation, it’s possible the companies will need more money, since they’re having trouble surviving on their own, and some of that money will go to lobbying the government about future regulations on companies that take money from the government.

Got any Advil?

These reports came from Senate disclosure records, but lest Senators get on their high horses, maybe they need to look at their own disclosure. Politico reports that while presidential candidates and House Representatives file their campaign finance data electronically, the Senate still does it the old fashioned way and wastes 6 tons of paper in the process:

You can learn instantly via Twitter that Claire McCaskill needs an iPhone repair or that Chuck Grassley burned his leg on his Iowa farm.

But if you want to comb through the details of a senator’s quarterly campaign finance reports online, it’s going to take a month to get the information — and a boatload of government money to make it available.

Russ Feingold has introduced a bill that would make senators e-file:

But as in years past, the bill’s fate is murky. Feingold says Republicans won’t agree to pass the measure by a voice vote, and transparency advocates supporting the bill say that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), with support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), plans to offer a poison-pill amendment should Feingold’s bill make it to the floor for a vote.

Make that two Advil.

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