This Motley Fool series examines things that just aren't right in the world of finance and investing. Here's what's got us riled today. If something's bugging you, too -- and we suspect it is -- go ahead and unload in the comments section below.

Today's subject: It has been more than two years since taxpayers invested $9 trillion to bail out Wall Street. While our economy is still years away from a full recovery, a combination of low interest rates, a dearth of competition, cheap bailout money, and handsome subsidies have meant that the banks that toppled our economy have returned to making record profits.

And what are they doing with those record profits? So far, they've cut lending to small businesses, paid their executives near-record bonuses, and spent record amounts lobbying Congress -- far more than any other industry has spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics.

Why you should be indignant: In return for saving these companies from bankruptcy, the deal was (or should have been) that Wall Street would agree to rules reducing the amount of risk it would be allowed to take in the future. When you save companies from their own recklessness, you may not get gratitude; certainly, taxpayers haven't gotten any. But you should expect at least an acceptance that they won't be idiots again.

Instead, Wall Street has been spending an estimated $1.4 million per day lobbying to weaken rules that would limit the ability to imperil the economy, according to Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor charged with oversight of the TARP program. In March, Warren noted that Wall Street had hired 54 lobbying firms, and a 55th to do nothing but coordinate the first 54.

In other words, Wall Street is spending our bailout money to make future bailouts more likely.

Here are some of the, um, "winners."


Lobbying Amount, 2009 

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM)

$6.2 million


$6.0 million

Citigroup (NYSE: C)

$5.5 million

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)

$3.6 million

Sallie Mae

$3.5 million

American Express

$3.3 million


$3.1 million

Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC)

$2.9 million


$2.9 million

Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS)

$2.9 million

Apollo Advisors

$2.9 million

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS)

$2.8 million


$2.8 million

Charles Schwab

$2.4 million


$2.3 million

Source: Center for Responsive Politics.

This much money can buy a lot of influence, influence that is hard at work to make sure that no one curbs banks' risk-taking, because higher risk means higher profits and bonuses in the short term. But it's also what leads to financial pandemics.

At the top of lobbyists' hit list is legislation that would ban bailouts and stop government subsidies for the same derivatives casinos that nearly took down our financial system two years ago.

Currently, Wall Street can use our FDIC-insured bank deposits as cheap funding for its derivatives traders. This practice is not only a government subsidy for risk-taking that torpedoed our economy, but it also puts our savings directly in the line of fire of the next derivatives meltdown, making future bailouts that much more likely.

Ending this government subsidy is a pretty common-sense idea that would do a lot to prevent the next economic crisis.

What now
As the financial crisis and subsequent lobbyist shock-and-awe demonstrates, something ultimately has to be done to address the influence of money in politics. It's necessary for our basic economy to function, much less for our government to represent the 99% of the population who aren't derivatives traders.

In the meantime, the attempt to end government support for derivatives casinos is up in the air. Forty-three members of Congress are deciding its fate today and tomorrow, and it could easily go either way.

This wouldn't even be on the table if it weren't for public outrage, and, given enough outrage today, we could win a rule preventing Wall Street from using our FDIC-insured savings deposits to gamble in derivatives. (You can learn more about the issue here.)

If you want to end bailouts and subsidies for risky derivatives casinos, click here to sign the petition or use the widget below. 

Once you're done, you can amplify your voice by calling one of the critical members of Congress listed underneath the petition.

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Thanks! Now, do you have a minute to call one or two of these numbers? Just tell the person who answers the phone that you're calling to comment on the financial reform bill, and that you need the representative or senator to oppose attempts to weaken Section 716 of the Senate derivatives chapter, which ends subsidies and bailouts for derivatives casinos.

Sen. Susan Collins, (202) 224-2523

Sen. Olympia Snowe, (202) 224-5344    

Rep. Barney Frank, (202) 225-5931

Sen. Chris Dodd, (202) 224-2823

Rep. Dennis Moore, (202) 225-2865

Fool editor Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice and Charles Schwab is a Stock Advisor selection. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.