The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. sent a letter to 100 Hill staffers recently inviting them to New York City for a Nov. 7 briefing on the corporation’s role in the capital markets and related regulatory issues in Washington, D.C.
The invitees, mainly staffers on the House Financial Services Committee and in the offices of Members who deal with financial issues, were told that the day-long meeting — which included briefings on the DTCC’s business areas, a tour of the corporation’s vault and a visit to the New York Stock Exchange — would be an introduction to “the most important firm on Wall Street that you’ve never heard of.”
This event marked the first time that the DTCC — a clearinghouse and depository that has automated trades between buyers and sellers of securities for decades — has sponsored Congressional travel, and it comes at a time when the corporation is increasing its presence in Washington.
“An on-site briefing allows us to show lawmakers and their staffs key parts of our core operations in person and have an interactive conversation with a number of subject matter experts,” Craig Donner of DTCC’s government relations department said in an email. “We invited House Financial Services Committee staff, and staffers who work for Members on the Capital Markets Subcommittee. The Committee handles many of the issues in which we have subject matter expertise, and we’re able to provide insight on the technical and operational issues of post-trade processing.”
It is not clear how many staffers attended; public disclosures for the travel are not due until next week.
Since the financial crisis began, the DTCC has grown from a nonentity in Washington to a powerful player, shelling out millions to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In 2007, the corporation spent just $20,000 lobbying the federal government. Last year, it paid Patton Boggs and APCO Worldwide a total of $1.15 million to bend lawmakers’ ears on the regulation of credit-default swaps, the over-the-counter derivatives market and other aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Earlier this year, the DTCC opened up its first area government affairs outpost in downtown D.C. The reason for opening the new outpost was that “Dodd-Frank shifted the center of gravity to Washington,” the corporation’s chief lobbyist told Roll Call in July.
The topics covered during the Nov. 7 trip reflect the organization’s lobbying objectives, including briefings on topics that included “challenges American firms will face because the U.S. and Europe will have different regulatory structures for clearing derivatives because of the Dodd-Frank Act” and the “DTCC’s efforts to become a recognized clearinghouse of derivatives,” according to a Financial Services Committee spokesman.
“When you have a large global operation like DTCC that provides services across multiple markets and asset classes, an on-site briefing allows us to give lawmakers and their staffs a more robust understanding of the company’s role in protecting the stability and integrity of global financial markets,” Donner said.
The DTCC is among a host of companies and interest groups that have recently added travel to the arsenal of tools available to achieve policy objectives in Congress.
Sapphire Energy, an algae-based biofuels company, has been lobbying since it was formed in 2008. But the privately held company, which is headquartered in San Diego, recently sponsored its first Congressional trip when it sent Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and four staffers to its development facility in Las Cruces, N.M., last month. Sapphire’s main lobbying objective is to “support technology development of algae as an advanced biofuel,” and it spent $650,000 on the effort last year, according to its filings.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association — a state-level affiliate of the National Corn Growers Association, which spent $495,000 last year on federal lobbying — in August brought Congressional staffers to the state in conjunction with the Iowa Soybean Association and the Renewable Products Marketing Group to learn about biofuels, which has been a focus of the corn lobby’s federal-level efforts.
Congress in 2007 amended its ethics rules to restrict private groups that retain registered lobbyists from arranging, organizing and financing most forms of lengthy travel, but it left open the opportunity for companies and interest groups to sponsor trips that include business on only one day.
Though the House Ethics Manual acknowledges that “travel may be among the most attractive and expensive gifts” that Members and their staffers can receive, experts say these short drop-ins facilitate interaction between Members of Congress and outside groups, which include private corporations and lobbying entities.
“We just wanted to be sure we got rid of the junkets — the long trips and the expensive ones,” said Public Citizen’s Craig Holman, who helped draft the current travel restrictions. “One-day trips can facilitate interaction between Members of Congress and outside groups, including lobbying entities. And that is useful.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.