Even before the Citizens United decision in 2010, the pervasive role money plays in our politics has thrown our democracy into crisis. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the widespread purchasing of financial deregulation, and the powerful barriers to big bank accountability thrown up by elected leaders from both parties.
There are a number of ways beyond the traditional scenario of lobbying and campaign contributions buying favorable laws for industry that Wall Street and the super rich defy democratic principles of fairness, equity, ethics, accountability, and respect for the rule of law.
The revolving door between industry and government makes our agencies more susceptible to regulatory capture. Outrageous gerrymanders that “pack” and “crack” minority voters have become commonplace. Some states are passing laws that make it harder for voters, especially minority voters, to gain access to the ballot. And the recent mid-term elections saw working voting machines being locked in warehouses and polling locations being reduced, leading to long travel times and lines at the polls.
Our current system of laws is written with special interests not citizens in mind, and as the wealthy and corporations continue to rig the system, we are heading toward an impending constitutional catastrophe. It is with a backdrop of Congressional paralysis and increasing contempt for democratic values that we call for real momentous democracy reform. From calamity, opportunities arise – as does the chance to collectively build the democracy we demand and deserve.
There are a number of measures Take On Wall Street is pursuing to curb the capture of our democracy by Wall Street and the super rich — from documenting Wall Street cash sloshing into Washington and who voted with the big banks to closing the “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington to comprehensive ethics reform to fix the broken system.
Wall Street Money in Washington
Americans for Financial Reform has tracked the rise of Wall Street cash up the steps of Capitol Hill in recent years with its flagship Wall Street Money in Washington report. Each year, the finance industry has consistently been by far the largest source of campaign contributions of any industry. You can read AFR’s Wall Street Money in Washington reports from 2017-2018, 2015-2016, and 2013-2014.
Congressional Voting Record: Where they stand on Financial Reform
As a companion piece to the deep dive into political cash, Americans for Financial Reform also publishes a voting record. The report tracks just who voted for bills pushed by the bank lobby that are dangerous for our financial stability, undermine consumer and investor protections, and enable racial discrimination in lending. The record is best read alongside the Wall Street Money in Washington report, so you can connect whose donations bought which piece of legislation. The easy reference tables allow you to look up a particular member, or see a list of members who voted to advance every single deregulatory bill out of nearly one hundred. And if you’re a history buff, you can even read up on votes in the 114th Congress.
Revolving Door Between Wall Street and Washington
The financial industry’s extraordinary influence on our regulatory system was among the leading causes of the last financial crisis. In many cases, regulators had ample authority to act but lacked the political will to enforce laws. The revolving door between industry and government makes our agencies more susceptible to regulatory capture: when a regulatory agency advances commercial or political interests of the sector it is charged with regulating, instead of acting in the public interest. This dynamic puts our economy at risk of future crises and consumers at risk of stepped-up abuse by big banks.
One of the ways the financial industry influences our regulatory system is by awarding lavish bonuses to executives who take positions in government where they will be in charge of regulating their former employers. For example, ten days before National Economic Council Gary Cohn announced measures to gut financial reform, we learned that as a parting gift from Goldman Sachs he would be receiving more than $100 million in bonuses and options that would otherwise have taken him years to access. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s payout deal from ExxonMobil, which he used to run, amounted to nearly $180 million.
Declaration for American Democracy
Take On Wall Street is a member of the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of groups working toward a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, and everyone’s voice is heard.
Take On Wall Street is a member of The Democracy Initiative, a coalition of organizations launched in 2013 working toward a bright future in which all Americans participate fully and freely in the democratic process. Partner organizations pursue a diverse range of progressive goals, including civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and climate justice, but we know that success in any of these areas depends on reforming our democracy.
- This omnibus bill package was the first piece of legislation introduced in the 116th Congress, and would restore voting rights to millions of Americans, crack down on dark money in elections (including from the big Wall Street banks), and enforce greater ethics in government including closing the revolving door between industry and Washington.
- The bill includes automatic voter registration, public financing of elections, an end to gerrymandering, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and the disclosure of presidential tax returns.
- Sign a petition to show your support for this big bold package of democracy reforms here.
- This bill combats conflicts of interest by ending “golden parachute” payouts and the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.
- Expanded to all industries and incorporated into H.R. 1, The For the People Act of 2019.
“Tax-Exempt Lobbying: Corporate Philanthropy as a Tool for Political Influence” by Marianne Bertrand, Matilde Bombardini, Raymond Fisman, and Francesco Trebbi, National Bureau of Economic Research, April 2019.
“The House Democrats’ Colossal Election Reform Bill Could Save American Democracy,” by Richard L. Hasen, Slate, January 14, 2019.
“No Labels and the ‘Problem Solvers’ are the Wolves of Wall Street in Sheeps’ Clothing,” by Porter McConnell and Rion Dennis, Inequality.org, December 12, 2018.
“House Democrats to Unveil Political Reform Legislation as H.R. 1,” by Mike DeBonis, The Washington Post, November 30, 2018.
“Take On Wall Street Poll: Key Findings from Battleground Congressional District Survey on Curbing Wall Street’s Influence,” by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, May 28, 2018.
“Wall Street Made Bank on Trump in 2017,” by Porter McConnell and Luísa Galvão, Inequality.org, January 31, 2018.
“Government Sachs and the Trump Administration“, by Marcus Stanley, Inequality.org, October 13, 2017.
“The Swamp Runneth Over“, by Jon Green, Other98, April 5, 2017.
“Wall Street spent over $2 billion on the 2016 election. They’re getting great returns on their investment,” by Carter Dougherty, Americans for Financial Reform, March 8, 2017.
“Groups Condemn Trump’s Wall Street Agenda with Mock Wedding“, by Take on Wall Street, Daily Kos, February 22, 2017.