In a Message to Democrats, Wall St. Sends Cash to GOP

Published on
by
The New York Times

In a Message to Democrats, Wall St. Sends Cash to GOP

by
David D. Kirkpatrick

WASHINGTON - If the Democratic Party has a stronghold on Wall Street, it is JPMorgan Chase.

Its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, is a friend of President Obama's from Chicago, a frequent White House guest and a big Democratic donor. Its vice chairman, William M. Daley, a former Clinton administration cabinet official and Obama transition adviser, comes from Chicago's Democratic dynasty.

But this year Chase's political action committee is sending the Democrats a pointed message. While it has contributed to some individual Democrats and state organizations, it has rebuffed solicitations from the national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees. Instead, it gave $30,000 to their Republican counterparts.

The shift reflects the hard political edge to the industry's campaign to thwart Mr. Obama's proposals for tighter financial regulations.

Just two years after Mr. Obama helped his party pull in record Wall Street contributions - $89 million from the securities and investment business, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics - some of his biggest supporters, like Mr. Dimon, have become the industry's chief lobbyists against his regulatory agenda.

Republicans are rushing to capitalize on what they call Wall Street's "buyer's remorse" with the Democrats. And industry executives and lobbyists are warning Democrats that if Mr. Obama keeps attacking Wall Street "fat cats," they may fight back by withholding their cash.

"If the president doesn't become a little more balanced and centrist in his approach, then he will likely lose that support," said Kelly S. King, the chairman and chief executive of BB&T. Mr. King is a board member of the Financial Services Roundtable, which lobbies for the biggest banks, and last month he helped represent the industry at a private dinner at the Treasury Department.

"I understand the public outcry," he continued. "We have a 17 percent real unemployment rate, people are hurting, and they want to see punishment. But the political rhetoric just incites more animosity and gets people riled up."

A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on its political action committee's contributions or relations with the Democrats. But many Wall Street lobbyists and executives said they, too, were rethinking their giving.

"The expectation in Washington is that ‘We can kick you around, and you are still going to give us money,' " said a top official at a major Wall Street firm, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House. "We are not going to play that game anymore."

Wall Street fund-raisers for the Democrats say they are feeling under attack from all sides. The president is lashing out at their "arrogance and greed." Republican friends are saying "I told you so." And contributors are wishing they had their money back.

"I am a big fan of the president," said Thomas R. Nides, a prominent Democrat who is also a Morgan Stanley executive and chairman of a major Wall Street trade group, the Securities and Financial Markets Association. "But even if you are a big fan, when you are the piñata at the party, it doesn't really feel good."

Roger C. Altman, a former Clinton administration Treasury official who founded the Wall Street boutique Evercore Partners, called the Wall Street backlash against Mr. Obama "a constant topic of conversation." Many bankers, he said, failed to appreciate the "white hot anger" at Wall Street for the financial crisis. (Mr. Altman said he personally supported "the substance" of the president's recent proposals, though he questioned their feasibility and declined to comment at all on what he called "the rhetoric.")

Mr. Obama's fight with Wall Street began last year with his proposals for greater oversight of compensation and a consumer financial protection commission. It escalated with verbal attacks this year on what he called Wall Street's "obscene bonuses." And it reached a new level in his calls for policies Wall Street finds even more infuriating: a "financial crisis responsibility" tax aimed only at the biggest banks, and a restriction on "proprietary trading" that banks do with their own money for their own profit.

"If the president wanted to turn every Democrat on Wall Street into a Republican," one industry lobbyist said, "he is doing everything right."

Though Wall Street has long been a major source of Democratic campaign money (alongside Hollywood and Silicon Valley), Mr. Obama built unusually direct ties to his contributors there. He is the first president since Richard M. Nixon whose campaign relied solely on private donations, not public financing.

Wall Street lobbyists say the financial industry's big Democratic donors help ensure that their arguments reach the ears of the president and Congress. White House visitors' logs show dozens of meetings with big Wall Street fund-raisers, including Gary D. Cohn, a president of Goldman Sachs; Mr. Dimon of JPMorgan Chase; and Robert Wolf, the chief of the American division of the Swiss bank UBS, who has also played golf, had lunch and watched July 4 fireworks with the president.

Lobbyists say they routinely brief top executives on policy talking points before they meet with the president or others in the administration. Mr. Wolf, in particular, also serves on the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board led by the former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker.

Mr. Wolf was the only Wall Street executive on the panel and became the board's leading opponent of what became known as the Volcker rule against so-called proprietary trading, according to participants. Such trading did nothing to cause the crisis, Mr. Wolf argued, as the industry lobbyists do now. (The panel concluded that the crisis established a precedent for government rescue that could enable big banks to speculate for their own gain while taxpayers took the biggest risks.)

Mr. Wolf and Mr. Dimon, who was in Washington last week for meetings on Capitol Hill and lunch with the president, have both pressed the industry's arguments against other proposed regulations and the bank tax as well - saying the rules could cramp needed lending and send business abroad, according to lobbyists.

Both men are said to remain personally supportive of the president. But UBS's political action committee has shifted its contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After dividing its money evenly between the parties for 2008, it has given about 56 percent to Republicans this cycle.

Most of its biggest contributions, of $10,000 each, went to five Republican opponents of Mr. Obama's regulatory proposals, including Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking minority member of the Banking Committee.

The Democratic campaign committees declined to comment on Wall Street money. But their Republican rivals are actively courting it.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he visited New York about twice a month to try to tap into Wall Street's "buyers' remorse."

"I just don't know how long you can expect people to contribute money to a political party whose main plank of their platform is to punish you," Mr. Cornyn said.

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