Bailout recipients exceed $10m in lobbying

By Dan Eggen
The Washington Post / April 22, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Major recipients of federal bailout money spent more than $10 million to lobby lawmakers in the first three months of 2009, including arguing against pay limits for corporate executives, according to newly filed disclosure records.

The biggest spenders among major financial firms and automakers included General Motors Corp., which spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying so far this year, and Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which together spent more than $2.5 million in their efforts to sway lawmakers and Obama administration officials on a wide range of financial issues.

The new statistics revive objections from public-interest groups and some lawmakers who argue it is improper for companies to be lobbying against stricter oversight and other regulations at the same time that they are benefiting from the government's massive Troubled Assets Relief Program.

"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, an activist group affiliated with a coalition of labor unions. "It's business as usual with taxpayers picking up the bill."

But several company representatives said none of the money borrowed from the government has been used to fund lobbying activities. GM spokesman Greg Martin said that maintaining a lobbying presence is vital to ensure that the automaker has a seat at the table when major policy decisions are made by Congress or the administration.

"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.

Lawmakers have increasingly complained about the policy positions taken by many of the bailout firms, which have fought attempts by Congress to tighten pay restrictions and other regulations. Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, also released a report last month, alleging that 13 of the firms owed the government $220 million in unpaid taxes, despite signed pledges by the companies that their obligations were up to date.

According to quarterly lobbying reports due yesterday, more than a dozen financial firms that have received TARP assistance spent money on lobbying during the first three months of this year. After Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, top lobbying participants included American Express ($770,000); Wells Fargo Bank ($700,000); Goldman Sachs ($670,000); and Morgan Stanley ($540,000).

Many of the companies spent less so far this year than they did during the first months of 2008, the records show.