Durbin: The Banks Own Capitol Hill

April 30, 2009

The Washington Post reported recently that top TARP recipients paid a collective $22 million dollars to lobby Congress over the previous six months. In a recent interview, Assistant Majority Leader, Senator Dick Durbin observed wryly that, "the banks—hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place."

Getting out of the financial crisis will take disciplined regulation of the financial industry. If Senator Durbin, who is number two in the Senate and who has worked on the bailout as well as consumer credit and related issues, is not able to gain traction to resolve the crisis, improving transparency of political spending by TARP recipients, as we called for in a letter to TARP overseer Elizabeth Warren several weeks ago, is a crucial next step.

Congress needs to break free of the influence of the financial industry so that it can legislate from its conscience, which is why we are supporting an initiative by Senator Durbin, the Fair Elections Now Act. The bill would allow members of Congress to collect a certain amount of small contributions in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding, as well as to collect those small contributions throughout the campaign, thus empowering small donors.

The big-picture problem with Congress is that it is far too beholden to its largest contributors. The Fair Elections Now Act would address that by providing an alternative to the current private campaign finance system for Congressional candidates, and not a moment too soon.