Executives at Wall Street's biggest banks have begun throwing financial support to their early favorites in the 2020 Democratic presidential field: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.
All three candidates combined to receive contributions during the second quarter from at least 15 bank executives from Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The donations represent just a fraction of the millions the candidates brought in during the three-month frame. Yet they provide clues about where these well-heeled donors could place their support as the campaign barrels toward the first voting contests of the season, which begin in February.
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the other top candidates in the field of 20-plus, have set the tone in the campaign by calling for breaking up big banks and eliminating tax loopholes that favor the wealthy. Likewise, Biden, Harris and Buttigieg have all slammed Wall Street, vowed to close the wealth gap and pledged to strengthen the middle class. They haven't unveiled specific policy proposals for contending with big banks and Wall Street, however.
Biden, speaking to a gathering of wealthy donors Wednesday in Detroit, warned them that they shouldn't expect another tax cut like the one they received from President Donald Trump. Biden served as vice president under President Barack Obama for eight years during the Great Recession in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Biden, who represented the bank-friendly state of Delaware for over 30 years in the Senate, has also said that "the country wasn't built by Wall Street bankers." He has been a staunch supporter of the Dodd-Frank banking regulations that came about during the Obama years. Still, his recent policy proposals don't mention any of the big banks or the idea of regulating the finance industry as a whole.
Harris' campaign website touts her record of taking on Wall Street when she was California's attorney general starting in 2011. At that time, she pulled California out of national negotiations pursuing a monetary settlement from major banks for foreclosed households during the financial crisis.
Buttigieg has called for stricter consumer protections, including the revival of enforcement authorities under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Goldman's chief financial officer, Stephen Scherr, gave $2,800 in May to Biden's campaign for president. Scherr was refunded $2,800 from an original check of $5,600, according to a filing, but it was not immediately clear why. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs says, "He didn't over-contribute." Scherr attended a fundraiser in New York for Biden last month that was hosted by former hedge fund executive Eric Mindich.
Ari Glazer, a managing director at Citi, and Ali Reza, a managing director at Morgan Stanley, each gave Biden $2,800 that same month, records show. Scherr, Glazer and Reza have not given to another 2020 candidate. Biden finished the quarter raising $21.5 million.
As a U.S. senator in 2017, Harris introduced a bill alongside fellow Democratic contender for president Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Dianne Feinstein targeting executives at big banks. The bill, entitled the "Accountability for Wall Street Executives Act," would allow state law enforcement to issue subpoenas when investigating bank fraud.
Jennifer Scully-Lerner, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, gave Harris $1,000 in late June.
A spokesman for Goldman Sachs insisted that any contributions from executives was their choice and does not represent an endorsement by the institution.
"Any decision to donate to a presidential candidate is an individual's choice, not the firm's," the spokesman said.
Ray McGuire, who's led Citi's investment banking division for 13 years, sent $2,800 to Harris that same month. While he has also spent on other candidates, McGuire appears to be leaning toward putting his fundraising network behind Harris' campaign. He is part of a group of almost a dozen business leaders co-hosting a fundraising event for Harris at the home of public relations executive Michael Kempner in August. McGuire was a co-host of an earlier donor gathering for Harris that was led by Marc Lasry, the hedge fund manager and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Buttigieg, who led the Democratic fundraising battle in the second quarter with a $24.8 million haul, had some help from Wall Street in hitting that milestone.
Richard Zinman, an executive director at J.P. Morgan, gave Buttigieg $2,000 in late April. James Mahoney, the head of global communications and public policy at Bank of America, gave the same amount to Buttigieg's 2020 campaign in June.
One former chief at Goldman who has given to all three candidates is Bob Rubin, who worked at the bank for over two decades and later became Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton. He gave a total of $8,400 to Biden, Buttigieg and Harris.
Rubin attended Mindich's fundraiser for Biden last month, where he joined a plethora of other big money donors.
Spokesmen for Bank of America and Morgan Stanley declined to comment. Representatives for J.P. Morgan and Citi did not return requests for comment, nor did representatives for Biden, Harris and Buttigieg.
Correction: Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Stephen Scherr donated $2,800 to the Joe Biden campaign in May. Filings show he donated $5,600 and received a $2,800 refund. An earlier version of this article misstated the nature of his donation and the reason for the refund.