One grievance of the protesters targeting Wall Street is that financial elites wield way too much power in our democracy. That complaint is hardly new, but the latest figures on money in politics tells a truly troubling story about the vast resources that Wall Street has put into shaping both the legislative process and elections.
In just the past three years since Obama took office, according to OpenSecrets.org, the financial industry -- including banks, investment firms, and other actors -- poured about $570 million into lobbying in Washington, D.C. This year alone the industry has spent $118 million -- or about $9.8 million a month.
And that's just on lobbying. Banks and investment firms are also giving a bundle to candidates and political parties -- over $175 million since 2009.
What's really troubling, though, is that these publicly available figures -- $745 million in spending by the financial industry on lobbying and elections over the past 33 months -- don't tell a complete story. The finance industry also been a huge backer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $307 million on lobbying since Obama took office. And wealthy Wall Streeters have also given millions to conservative think tanks and shadowy right-wing independent nonprofit groups that don't have to reveal their finances.
All told, we're talking about as much as $1 billion in spending by the financial industry to influence public policy and electoral outcomes since early 2009.