EXCLUSIVE: Unions Ask Geithner to Deny Bailout Plea From Lobbying-Mad Financial Firm

The labor federation Change to Win (CtW) is taking a major step today in the effort to restrict bailed-out bank lobbying. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, CtW Chair Anna Burger makes a direct request that Principal Financial Group’s $2 billion TARP application be denied due to its lobbying bonanza. As Burger puts it:

Principal lobbies on numerous issues that have nothing to do with its own business operations, including the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers the freedom to choose a union without employer interference. This opposition to Employee Free Choice is more than shameful, it is a gratuitous slap at millions of working families who have lost their economic security because of the excesses of firms like Principal and who now must shoulder the cost of the bailout.

Principal is also the only TARP applicant or recipient that has disclosed lobbying on the Employee Free Choice Act.

As it fields requests for government money from businesses both large and small, the Treasury Department has promised to shed more sunlight on its bailout decision-making. So let’s give Treasury the benefit of the doubt and assume it has successfully mitigated the ferocity of companies lobbying to join the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

There is still no rule that constrains TARP beneficiaries from using taxpayer money to lobby Congress on other issues. Principal, for instance, spent $515,000 lobbying the government in the fourth quarter of last year, and it was active on a whopping 356 congressional bills, according to its lobbying disclosure report. Citigroup, by contrast, is twelve times larger than Principal — but it spent only three times more lobbying money in the fourth quarter and was active on just 79 congressional bills.

Bank of America, a $45 billion TARP beneficiary, sparked controversy with a conference call last month promoting contributions to lawmakers and groups opposing the Employee Free Choice legislation. But Burger’s letter today represents the labor movement’s first strike against the lobbying excesses of bailed-out companies. We’ll let you know more about Principal’s K Street team today and keep you posted on Geithner’s response.