If you're a shareholder in Citigroup
Initially, the proposed financial reforms included reining in bailouts, providing more robust consumer protections, and minimizing the dangers of derivatives. The lobbyists, many of them former federal employees (including more than 70 former Congressional representatives and senators, such as Dick Gephardt and Bob Dole), helped water down many of those initial proposals.
Sadly, that's not hard to believe. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found that so far this year, companies in the financial arena have spent close to $600 million on lobbyists. CRP claims that Citigroup, Visa, and Goldman Sachs each employed around 50 to 60 former federal employees as lobbyists.
The fiduciary standard
Consider the issue of the fiduciary standard. Right now, stockbrokers and insurance salespeople are permitted to earn commissions tied to the advice they give, but they don't necessarily have to disclose conflicts of interest or put the best interests of their clients first. This also makes it hard to punish them for dispensing bad guidance. As you might imagine, Wall Street isn't eager for status quo to change, since further regulation might pressure profitability and add expenses.
Forbes recently speculated that 1obbying in this arena seemed to be paying off. It cited Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who despite having advocated in the past for better regulation of brokers, "decided that it would be okay to exempt those brokers who sell only mutual funds, variable annuities and certain closed-end funds from the [fiduciary] standard," and to potentially expand the exemption to other products as well.
So far, it's unclear where the fiduciary standard will end up. A compromise between the Senate and House gave the SEC six months to study the matter. The agency can then propose rules to apply the standard to brokers.
Banks aren't the only ones lobbying
The CRP found that in 2009, the three industries hiring the most lobbyists were pharmaceuticals, education, and the technology industry. TurboTax software maker Intuit spent millions lobbying to have the IRS prohibit taxes from being directly filed electronically (thereby boosting the usefulness of TurboTax); its wish was granted.
Interestingly, corporations don't always lobby against what's good for the populace; sometimes, they lobby against other corporations. Telecom behemoths AT&T
Lobbying won't go away anytime soon. As investors, we'd do well to keep tabs on what our holdings are pushing for or against, since their lobbying results can have investment ramifications that thwart us in our efforts to maximize our performance. And as citizens and consumers, we should be doubly vigilant.
Should companies be allowed to lobby? Let us know -- leave a comment below!
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