Wells Fargo says the increase is driven in part by changes in laws that require some employees seeking government contracts to register as procurement lobbyists, also known as executive lobbyists. These lobbyists vie for government entities business, like bond underwriting and investments.
Theres been an increase in procurement lobbying laws over the past few years, and Wells Fargo strives to comply with applicable laws and regulations, Wells spokesman Josh Dunn said in an email.
North Carolina is one state where Wells has added procurement lobbyists. In 2007, Wells had five registered lobbyists at the state level. This year, it was 23. Many are based in Charlotte and involved in public finance.
Bank of America, which had 39 lobbyists registered in Raleigh five years ago, including procurement lobbyists, this year registered just two. Spokeswoman Shirley Norton said the banks state lobbying strategy has not changed significantly.
Kathy Carmichael, the Wells Fargo government relations executive charged with overseeing lobbyists in North Carolina and other states, declined to comment, citing bank rules against speaking to the media.
I have to wonder at some level if (registering more lobbyists) is out of an abundance of caution, said Nathan Batts, an attorney at the N.C. Bankers Association. They obviously have a larger footprint within the state.
Idaho is another example of the growth of procurement lobbyists. Wells Fargo registered 14 lobbyists this year in the state, the first time the bank had done so. All are labeled executive lobbyists.
Even though these are not traditional lobbyists trying to sway lawmakers, they do interact with the government at many different levels. A number of states decided to regulate them as lobbyists after scandals involving public officials doling out contracts to campaign contributors and friends, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen.
In South Carolina, Wells has one lobbyist registered. There is no record of any registered there by either Wells or Wachovia in 2007. Bank of America has three registered in the state this year, up from two in 2007. All appear to be legislative lobbyists.
Most states do not make a distinction between the two types of lobbyists in their records. But a closer look at registration data show that in many cases, Wells new lobbyists are indeed working to influence legislation.
In at least 11 states including Michigan, hard hit by foreclosures Wells Fargo has put legislative lobbyists in state capitals where none had been before.
In Maine, state records show Wells lobbied on three bills, including one that would require banks to provide original documents while foreclosing. It was vetoed by the governor. Wells had no lobbyists in Maine five years ago.
In California, financial reports show Wells Fargo spent $106,000 on lobbying in the first half of 2012. That compares with $80,000 in the same time period in 2007. An increase in lobbying spending also appears in Minnesota, records show.
Certainly states have increased regulations on who is a lobbyist, said Kerns, with the association of legislatures. But I also think that issues are more complex. Therefore these special interests probably feel like they need more lobbyists.
Lawmakers in California have been considering a raft of bills introduced at the behest of state Attorney General Kamala Harris after the large-scale mortgage servicing settlement. Legislation included a Homeowners Bill of Rights and expanded power for the attorney general to prosecute mortgage fraud.
Massachusetts made major revisions to its foreclosure laws, including considering a provision to require mandatory mediation before foreclosure but that was ultimately killed, Street of the American Bankers Association said.
Theres a huge amount of banking-focused legislation thats amounted from the recession, he said. Its certainly been the focus of an awful lot of time and effort.