* Wall Street spends millions lobbying Congress
* Goldman leads increased spending among top banks
* Allied special-interest groups also spend heavily
WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - Wall Street institutions and allied special-interest groups poured tens of millions of dollars into lobbying Congress in early 2010, as the political focus shifted to financial reform from healthcare, official data shows.
Six leading banks -- JPMorgan Chase JPM.N, Wells Fargo WFC.N, Citigroup C.N, Bank of America BAC.N, Goldman Sachs GS.N and Morgan Stanley MS.N -- spent a combined $6.9 million on lobbying in the first quarter. That marked a 4 percent increase from late last year and a jump of about one-third from the first three months of 2009.
Goldman Sachs increased its lobbying spending by more than 71 percent in the first three months over the same period last year.
It is on record as contributing $1.2 billion to lobbying efforts in the three months prior to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charges. It spent less than $700,000 in the year ago period.
Trade associations and special-interest groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also spent heavily, with the combined total for 10 selected organizations giving $43.2 million, or about two-thirds more than they spent in the first-quarters of the last two years.
But several banks and groups scaled back from a surge of lobby spending in the fourth-quarter of 2009, according to the congressional filings that are mandated by law.
First-quarter spending figures offer a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes wrangling on Capitol Hill as Wall Street struggled to influence the financial reform debate triggered by the 2008 financial crisis and the deep economic recession it spawned.
At the same time, Wall Street banks have begun to favor Republicans over Democrats in their campaign donations in the 2010 congressional elections, reversing their 2009 approach that gave Democrats the edge.
“Wall Street’s been trying to figure out how to stop the (regulatory) train from leaving the station and derail the whole thing. But I think they’ve also realized that something would pass and are also trying to find loopholes that can be made as wide as possible,” said David Min of the Washington-based think-tank Center for American Progress.
The reform debate now appears to be entering the home stretch, with Republicans softening their opposition to Democratic proposals to crack down on Wall Street.
Lobbying by organizations with a vested interest in financial reform rose sharply late in 2009 after Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd first introduced his regulatory bill, according to lobbyists.
It intensified again in March when Dodd issued revised legislation and began pushing the measure through his committee.
The lobbying spending data that companies and their agents must file with Congress each quarter does not provide a complete picture of activity on any given topic.
Disclosure documents do not say how much money is spent on a specific piece of legislation. In the first quarter, some companies and special-interest groups also spent heavily on healthcare reform in the first quarter.
First-quarter numbers may also be inflated by a new federal standard that for required companies for the first time this year to account for annual payments to trade associations in the January to March quarter, said a bank official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Organizations also define lobbying differently. One of the biggest forces in lobbying -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent more than $30 million in the first quarter. But officials said the total includes television advertising and other activities unrelated to traditional Washington lobbying.
The chamber’s first quarter lobby figure was double what the organization spent in the same period of last year but well down from the nearly $80 million it spent in the final three months of 2009 when healthcare dominated the U.S. political debate. (Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
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