Lobbyists for the financial services industry opposed to an overhaul of the derivatives market outnumber pro-reform lobbyists 11 to one since the beginning of 2009, according to a new report by nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen.
That's 903 lobbyists opposed to reform versus just 79 in favor.
Public Citizen counted up the number of lobbyists who listed any of nine specific pieces of derivatives legislation on their Lobbying Disclosure Act forms, then did research to suss out the positions of the lobbyists' employers on derivatives if it wasn't obvious to begin with.
The derivatives market, as President Obama put it in April, "is where a lot of the big, risky financial bets by companies like AIG took place. There are literally trillions of dollars sloshing around this market that basically changes hands under the cover of darkness."
Obama said the "usual army of lobbyists" had been dispatched to Capitol Hill to weaken provisions of the Wall Street reform legislation currently before the Senate. The bill is supposed to bring more transparency and accountability to all that money sloshing around by requiring derivatives to be traded publicly on exchanges.
Surely many of the companies listed would quibble with the notion they are in wholesale opposition to derivatives regulation. Lobbying isn't about wholesale opposition -- it's a game of subtleties and "unintended consequences."
"It's possible that some of the people on the con side have a more nuanced view," said Public Citizen's Taylor Lincoln, one of the report's co-authors. "Everybody's for apple pie."
The five largest banks are among the 223 lobbying clients that pop up in Public Citizen's report. The American Bankers Association boasts the most lobbyists, with 30 reporting lobbying on the derivatives measures, followed by the Chamber of Commerce with 29. The Air Transport Association of America, with 27 lobbyists, is the only one of the top 10 groups (by number of lobbyists) that supports reform.
Public Citizen's pro-reform side includes any member of three coalitions: Americans for Financial Reform, the Derivatives Reform Alliance or the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition.
Due to the vagaries of lobbying disclosure, with some registrants reporting their activity more precisely than others -- some might list a specific bill, for instance, while others simply put "financial reform" -- Lincoln said it's possible the report understates the number of lobbyists on both sides of derivatives reform.
"Lawmakers should mind the advocacy disparity on derivatives and work to give fair consideration to the pro-reform side," said David Arkush, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which does not list a specific piece of derivatives legislation in its lobbying disclosure forms. "A small number of organizations are completely outgunned, but unlike big bank lobbyists, they represent tens of millions of real people."
Click HERE to download a PDF of the report, titled "Eleven to One: Pro-Reform Derivatives Lobbyists Vastly Outnumbered by Opposition."