The Wall Street giants that received a financial lifeline from Washington may have no compunction about paying big bonuses to their dealmakers and traders. But their willingness to deliver “thank you” gifts to President Obama and the Democrats is another question altogether.
Mr. Obama will fly to New York on Tuesday for a lavish Democratic Party fund-raising dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for about 200 big donors. Each donor is paying the legal maximum of $30,400 and is allowed to take a date. Four of the seven “co-chairs” listed on the invitation work in finance, and Democratic Party organizers say they expect that about a third of the attendees will come from the industry.
But from the financial giants like Goldman Sachs , JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup that received federal bailout money — and whose bankers raised millions of dollars for Mr. Obama’s election — only a half-dozen or fewer are expected to attend (estimated total contribution: $91,200).
Part of the reason, several Democratic fund-raisers and executives said, is a fear of getting caught in the public rage over the perception that Wall Street titans profiting from their government bailout may use their winnings to give back to Washington in return. And the timing of the event, as the industry lobbies against proposals for tighter regulations to address the underlying causes of last year’s meltdown on Wall Street, has only added to the worry over public appearances.
“There are sensitivities there,” said Scott Talbot, a lobbyist for the industry’s Financial Services Roundtable. Political contributions “can make a donor a target,” Mr. Talbot said. Many involved, though, say the low attendance from those Wall Street giants also reflected a broader disenchantment with Mr. Obama over the angry language emanating from the White House over the million-dollar bonuses and anti-regulatory lobbying.
“There is some failure in the finance industry to appreciate the level of public antagonism toward whatever Wall Street symbolizes,” said Orin Kramer, a partner in an investment firm who is a Democratic fund-raiser and one of the event’s chairmen. “But in order to save the capitalist system, the administration has to be responsive to the public mood, and that is a nuance which can get lost on Wall Street.”
Dr. Daniel E. Fass, another chairman of the event who lives surrounded by financiers in Greenwich, Conn., said: “The investment community feels very put-upon. They feel there is no reason why they shouldn’t earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don’t want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown.” Dr. Fass added, “How much that will be reflected in their support for the president remains to be seen.”
Mr. Obama remains a potent fund-raising draw. Plunging into the 2010 midterm campaigns last week, he raised more than $3 million in one night in San Francisco, speaking at a similar $30,400-a-couple dinner and a larger rally with tickets at $1,000 and under.
In addition to the big-ticket dinner on Tuesday, Mr. Obama will also address a more small-d democratic event at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, where roughly 2,500 donors paying $1,000 or less will also make cellphone calls to promote his health care overhaul. Over the next five days he will appear at fund-raisers for Bill Owens, a candidate for a House seat in New York; Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey (himself a former Goldman Sachs banker); Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts; and Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut.
Democratic fund-raisers say the economic slump has dampened fund-raising across every industry. Wall Street has lost Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers to consolidation in last year’s credit crunch. Some former Obama fund-raisers on Wall Street have ascended to jobs in the administration, like Michael Froman, a former top Citigroup executive who is now an adviser on economics and national security.
Current Democratic fund-raisers say their 2008 take from Wall Street may also have benefited from the personal connections of the party’s chief fund-raiser that year, Philip D. Murphy, a former top executive at Goldman Sachs. (He is now ambassador to Germany). And as in recent years, Democrats are raising far more from Wall Street executives than Republicans, according to campaign finance data sorted by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Democrats, including House and Senate party committees and the party itself, raised about $5.4 million in the first eight months of the year, while the Republicans took in just $2.7 million.
So far in the current election cycle, though, Wall Street accounts for less than half as much of the Democratic Party’s fund-raising as it did in 2008: 3 percent, or about $1.5 million out of a total $53.6 million in the eight-month period, compared with about 6 percent, or $15.3 million out of $260.1 million during the last election. (Republicans relied more heavily on their party to support their presidential candidate in 2008, and the party’s Wall Street fund-raising has fallen even further.)
Fund-raisers say smaller but lucrative businesses like hedge funds and private equity firms now account for more of Wall Street’s political contributions than the big banks that received bailout money, with the possible exception of the famously generous executives of Goldman Sachs.
Employees associated with the financial firms that received bailout money from the federal government contributed almost $70,000 to the Democratic Party in the first half of this year. Most of that, $60,800, came from one couple who each contributed the legal limit. At the time of the donation, the husband, John M. Noel, had recently retired as head of a unit of the insurance giant AIG called AIG Travel Guard.
Mr. Obama, though, still has the loyalty of other powerful friends on Wall Street. Among the other chairmen of the Tuesday dinner in New York is Robert Wolf, head of the American investment banking division of the Swiss giant UBS Group. Mr. Wolf raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama’s campaign and sits on a White House panel of outside economic advisers.
Mr. Wolf does not have to worry about the same appearance problems as Wall Street rivals, however. His firm was bailed out by the government of Switzerland, not the United States.
Griff Palmer contributed research from New York.