GOP Chases Wall Street Donors

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by
Wall Street Journal

GOP Chases Wall Street Donors

Data Show Fund-Raisers Begin Capitalizing on Bankers' Regret Over Backing Obama

by
Brody Mullins and Neil King Jr.

From left, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Va., and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., listen as President Obama speaks to Republican lawmakers at the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore, Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republicans are stepping up their campaign to win donations from Wall Street, trying to capitalize on an increasing sense of regret among executives at big financial institutions for backing Democrats in 2008.

In discussions with Wall Street executives, Republicans are striving to make the case that they are banks' best hope of preventing President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats from cracking down on Wall Street.

GOP strategists hope to benefit from the reaction to the White House's populist rhetoric and proposals, which range from sharp critiques of bonuses to a tax on big Wall Street banks, caps on executive pay and curbs on business practices deemed too risky.

Democrats have dominated Wall Street's fund-raising circles in recent elections. Mr. Obama himself raised millions of dollars from employees of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and other Wall Street firms.

Now, at least some Wall Street executives have reduced their political contributions to the Democratic Party and its candidates, according to fund-raising reports and interviews with executives at financial-services firms.

Last week, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio made a pitch to Democratic contributor James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan, over drinks at a Capitol Hill restaurant, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Boehner told Mr. Dimon congressional Republicans had stood up to Mr. Obama's efforts to curb pay and impose new regulations. The Republican leader also said he was disappointed many on Wall Street continue to donate their money to Democrats, according to the people familiar with the matter.

A spokeswoman for J.P. Morgan declined to comment.

"I sense a lot of dissatisfaction and a lot of buyer's remorse on Wall Street," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the second-ranking House Republican and a top Wall Street fund-raiser for his party.

A complete picture of Wall Street's 2009 campaign donations won't be available for a few weeks. Through the third quarter, campaign-finance reports show that some major Wall Street players began sending an increasing share of their donations to Republicans. Many of those donations came toward the end of this period, because many banks had essentially shut down their political giving at the height of the financial crisis.

Through the first nine months of 2009, about 54% of donations from Bank of America Corp.'s political action committee and employees went to Republicans, according to campaign-finance data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That was a switch from the 2008 campaign, when 56% of the company's donations went to Democrats. Shirley Norton, a BofA spokeswoman, said it doesn't base PAC donations on party affiliation.

Donations from the PACs and employees of J.P. Morgan and Citigroup also trended toward Republicans during the same period, according to the data. Spokeswomen for the banks declined to comment.

During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama received nearly $15 million in donations from people who worked in the securities and investment industry, according to the CRP data. Employees of Goldman Sachs donated nearly $1 million to his campaign. By contrast, Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, received $8.7 million from the securities and investment sector, according to the data.

Wall Street executives who supported Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign said there had been growing signs of discontent. These Democrats predicted that the unease would depress fund raising as the 2010 election heats up.

One major Democratic fund-raiser on Wall Street said that some people who raised money for Mr. Obama's campaign felt burned. "They put themselves on the line internally with their companies for Obama, and now they look stupid," this person said.

The White House referred calls seeking comment on Wall Street donors to the Democratic National Committee. A DNC spokesman said: "It's not surprising that Republicans are seeking money from the same banking industry they are the champions of. The relationship between Wall Street and Republicans is symbiotic."

Recently, Mr. Obama has repeatedly blasted the banking industry and Wall Street in speeches, leading critics to charge that he is vilifying Wall Street for political purposes.

"I see people that philosophically oppose Obama's policies getting a lot more engaged," said former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, who now serves as the vice chairman of investment firm UBS Securities LLC.

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