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Lobbyists angling to weaken crucial financial reforms

This week marks the final round in the battle in Washington for Wall Street accountability in the wake of the recent financial crisis. For those who care about shutting down Wall Street gambling and barring future bank bailouts, it is time to close the deal.

If the process stays on track, the conference will end by today, and President Obama should sign a bill into law before July 4.

As a Senate leader, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been a champion on investor protection, corporate governance and consumer issues. In his role, he listens carefully to Wall Street interests, while also being protective of Main Street concerns in our state's cities and towns -- an unenviable position to say the least.

If the best elements of the House and Senate bills survive the conference process, consumers will be protected by new credit laws overseen by an independent body with sufficient authority to do its job.

But as I write, Wall Street is jockeying for every loophole it can dream up, and lobbyists are lurking everywhere.

Important issues are still up for grabs. Will the Wall Street casino be moved out of the shadows so that regulators can actually see what is going on in the $600 trillion derivatives market? Will the gamblers have to actually prove they have the money to cover their bets before they make them, instead of relying on taxpayers?

An amendment to cap the size of banks failed, but the "Volcker Rule" (named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker), which prevents banks from investing taxpayer-guaranteed deposits in high-risk credit instruments, may survive.

Decisions made today will make a big difference in the security of our economy, homes and livelihoods. The banking industry is spending $1.4 million a day, and has 2,603 registered lobbyists working to weaken the bill.

What goes on in Washington may seem remote from the lives of everyday New Yorkers.

But past decisions in Washington that allowed the big banks to take untenable risks, churn vast sums of money, pay outlandish bonuses and then leave the rest of us to pick up the pieces certainly mattered.

It's not too late to weigh in by phone or e-mail with the state's two senators and your House member. This is an epic battle between the interests of Main Street and Wall Street, and Wall Street has enormous resources at its command.

You've helped bring us this far, Sen. Schumer: We need you to fight hard for strong reform.

Ruhi Maker is a senior attorney at the Empire Justice Center, a statewide public interest law firm with offices in Albany, Rochester, White Plains and Long Island.

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