Wall Street Banks, Their Employees Are Leaning Left

Wall Street Banks, Their Employees Are Leaning Left
A statue of George Washington stands as Federal Hall across Wall Street from the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan in New York City, N.Y., on Oct. 26, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

WASHINGTON—Wall Street banks and their employees have been leaning left in recent years, increasing the proportion of cash allocated to Democrats.

Some of that has been prompted by the industry’s bid to rebuild the bipartisan support it enjoyed before the 2009 financial crisis, which turned many Democrats against the industry. Here is the breakdown for the 2020 election cycle, based on data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Biden Versus Trump

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has dramatically outpaced President Donald Trump in total fundraising during the final months of the campaign ahead of the Nov. 3 election; that's also true when it comes to winning cash from the banking industry.

Biden’s campaign and other fundraising vehicles supporting his campaign have pulled in roughly $3 million from commercial banks, compared with just over $1.4 million for Trump, CRP data shows.

By comparison, in 2012, the first presidential election following the 2009 financial crisis, Republican candidate Mitt Romney pulled in nearly $5.5 million from commercial banks and their workers, compared with President Barack Obama’s nearly $2 million.

Wall Street banks and their workers were the top five contributors to Romney, while no financial firms were among Obama’s top contributors, according to the CRP data.

Congressional Money

In the 2020 election cycle, campaign contributions from commercial banks and their workers to Republicans and Democrats running in congressional races are split nearly evenly, at $14 million and $13.6 million, respectively.

That's a significant shift from four years ago, when Republicans pulled in $18.9 million from the industry, nearly twice as much as Democrats.

It was even more tilted in 2012, when Democrats won just 29 percent of the bank donations pot.

Of the top 20 recipients of bank and bank-worker donations this cycle, including presidential candidates, sitting and aspiring lawmakers, 10 are Democrats or left-leaning independents, compared with six Democrats in 2012.

Who Is Getting the Money?

Stripping out Trump and Biden, the next top recipient on that list is anti-Wall Street progressive and former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, with $831,096.

While at first blush that seems counter-intuitive, Sanders, an independent who lost to Biden in the Democratic presidential race, tops contributions from many industries, due to his grassroots following among millions of Americans, including those who work at banks.

Focusing only on funds dished out by banks’ dedicated political arms, the picture changes.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, one of the senior Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee, which is key for the banking industry, tops the list, with a $226,000 haul. Next is Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the top Republican on that panel, with $185,500 in cash from bank political committees.

That suggests many bank employees favor progressive lawmakers more than the industry’s leadership.

The top 20 recipients of bank political funds comprise 14 Republicans and six Democrats. Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, a senior member of the House banking panel, received the most among Democrats, with $140,000.

Nearly all the top 20 recipients for this cycle sit on a panel with jurisdiction over the industry.

Who Are Banks Backing?

Beyond campaign donations, the banking industry is playing a more direct role in this year’s presidential election cycle, with the industry’s top trade group, the American Bankers Association, running ads backing 14 congressional candidates.

Some of those include Republican industry allies like Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Rep. French Hill of Arkansas, a former banker. The group, seeking to build bipartisan ties, is also running ads for a handful of moderate Democrats, like Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

The ABA also weighed in on some of the tightest races in the country, running ads backing Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who, along with Tillis, are top Democratic targets.