If you want to understand how the top 1 percent have accumulated such power in American politics, look no further than Washington’s K Street lobbying corridor. Wall Street has long been the dominant player in the capital. “The banks,” Senator Dick Durbin said in 2009, “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
The financial sector has spent more money on campaign contributions and lobbying than any other sector of the economy—$4.6 billion on lobbying since 1998, according to Open Secrets. This year, commercial banks and securities and investment firms have spent over $82 million on lobbying, employing over 1,000 lobbyists.
Given these facts, it makes sense that the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to K Street. Since October 1, demonstrators have gathered in MacPherson Square, their numbers and visibility growing in recent days. Yesterday Harvard professor Larry Lessig, one of the pre-eminent advocates of true campaign finance reform, spoke to Occupy K Street. Nation intern Cal Colgan attended the talk and passed on some notes.
“Forget the 99 percent,” Lessig said yesterday. “We are the 99.95 percent of people who have never maxed out in a Congressional election campaign by giving the maximum amount. It is .05 percent of America who have given $2500 in the last election to a Congressional candidate, .05 percent, and Congress listens to them.” These are the same people who pay lobbyists to convince lawmakers to gut crucial regulations and oppose new ones.
It is the first time in American history where we have seen a collapse followed by no fundamental reregulation of the financial services sector because [the banks] have the power to block change from either the Democrats or the Republicans, because they can say to the Democrats or to the Republicans, “If you don’t back us, we guarantee you will lose in the next election.” They are the largest single group of contributors to Congressional elections of any in the country, and they hold this country hostage because of that power, because of that corruption.
Lessig called on the demonstrators to make confronting this legalized system of corruption a central organizing principle of the growing movement, and for the left to unite with populist Americans on the right who are similarly frustrated by the stranglehold of money and politics.