Candidates Biting The Hands That Feed Them?
Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are both slamming Wall Street for its "unbridled greed" (as McCain put it) and for "an economic philosophy that has completely failed" (as Obama said) — strong words for two candidates who have accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street.
Republican McCain let Wall Street have it Tuesday during a campaign stop in Tampa: "In my administration, we're going to hold people on Wall Street responsible, and we're going to enact and enforce reforms that ensure that these outrages — and they are outrages — never happen in the first place."
Democrat Obama, campaigning in Golden, Colo., also called for a stronger hand from Washington: "Our capital markets cannot succeed without the public's trust. It's time to get serious about regulatory oversight, and that's what I will do as president."
But just as Wall Street is known as the financial capital of the country, it's also known — by presidential hopefuls — as the single best place to go for campaign cash.
Obama has raised $10 million from the men and women of Wall Street. McCain's take is somewhat less: about $7 million.
"The question is, I think, will these candidates bite the hand that has fed them?" says Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiled the totals from data at the Federal Election Commission. The center ranks the top sources of money for each candidate based on where individual donors work.
"For both guys, it's a who's who of Wall Street," Ritsch says. "For McCain, Merrill Lynch at No. 1, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, UBS. On Obama, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley ... "
Obama hasn't just gotten more dollars across the board. Within each firm, he generally has picked up more than McCain. That's true at all of the big companies except Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse.
Maybe the pro-Obama split is just following Wall Street's pro-Democratic giving pattern in recent elections. Or maybe it's because Obama fits more naturally than McCain in the liberal, urban Northeast political scene where Wall Streeters circulate.
Yet it's Obama, not McCain, who promises to repeal President Bush's tax cuts for high-wealth individuals. That seems like a guarantee of higher taxes for many in the financial sector.
Ritsch says Wall Streeters have many reasons for giving, just like any other donors. Sometimes the reasons are altruistic, he says. And sometimes it's about access.
"In many ways, it can be a defensive measure of 'All right, if we're going to have to deal with this guy, we at least want to be able to tell him why his ideas are going to hurt people other than us, why this is not going to be good for the economy, why additional regulation is bad for business and bad for the economy.' They want a seat at the table."
But this year may mark a peak in Wall Street's generosity.
Merrill Lynch employees were a big source of political cash. Now the firm has been bought by Bank of America.
Lehman Brothers also had a strong tradition of political giving. This year, it ranked No. 4 among Wall Street firms for presidential campaign donors — until Monday, that is, when it filed for bankruptcy.
Three years from now, when the next band of candidates is scouting for money, the financial sector may not be nearly so flush — but still a richer source of money than anyplace else in America.
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