Bailouts crimp Senate Dem fundraising

Senate Democrats are losing their fundraising edge on Wall Street, seeing less money for candidates at a time when the party’s liberal wing is demonizing billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts to banks.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised $10.4 million through the first three months of this year, compared with $9.6 million raised by its Republican counterpart during the same quarter.

That’s a much narrower margin than last election cycle, when the DSCC raised $163 million compared to the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s (NRSC) $94 million.

The DSCC’s edge has all but vanished since Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDonald Trump Jr. headlines Montana Republican convention Montana's environmental lobby teams with governor to kill 600 jobs Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points MORE (D-N.Y.), an influential member of the Banking Committee, left his perch as chairman of the Democratic fundraising committee.

But Schumer’s departure also coincided with Congress approving $700 billion to bail out banks on Wall Street — a point that has rankled the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Schumer’s successor and other Democrats blame the faltering economy for drying up what had been a torrent of Wall Street contributions. But banking and investment lobbyists say the strained relationship between their clients and Democrats is an important factor.

Many — if not most — Democratic senators have refused contributions from the senior executives and political action committees (PACs) of companies that have accepted money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). This has crimped a conduit from some of the Democrats’ biggest donors, such as Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Democratic senators fear that if they accept contributions from institutions they bailed out with taxpayer money, they will incur the wrath of their liberal base and working-class Americans. The Senate may also have to decide whether to approve more taxpayer money for Wall Street.

“We obviously have an economy in the country in which we face some very significant challenges. We hear that as we deal with our contributors across the landscape of the country,” said DSCC Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo MORE (N.J.) in an interview.

Menendez said he was “thrilled” by how much individual Senate Democratic candidates have raised so far this year.

This cooling of Senate Democratic fundraising coincided with a steep drop in gifts from Wall Street firms to the DSCC. In the first two months of the 2008 election cycle, securities and investment firms gave $518,000 to the Democratic committee, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks fundraising. The NRSC raised a paltry $103,000 from securities and investment firms in the first two months of the 2008 cycle.

Securities and investment firms were the most generous industry to the DSCC in the last cycle, eclipsing lawyers and law firms by $2 million. The committee raised more money only from members of the Democratic caucus, who gave generously from their campaign accounts.

The Senate Democratic committee, however, has only raised $177,000 — a 65 percent drop —from securities and investment firms in January and February of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“I think it’s the overall economy,” Menendez said when asked about the decline in Democratic fundraising. “Whether it’s Wall Street that’s obviously the epicenter of the challenges in that economy or whether it’s individuals who have seen a third of their portfolio go by the wayside, it’s a more challenging time.

“We take a long-term view of it and think it will get increasingly better,” he said.

A Senate Democratic aide argued that Democrats’ relationship with Wall Street donors could not be assessed based on a few months of fundraising data: “This is a snapshot in time and it is way, way too premature to forecast anything based on one quarter.”

The Democrats have raised less money from securities and investment firms this year than during the first two months of the 2006 election cycle, when the DSCC collected $223,000.

The Senate Republican committee has seen its contributions from securities and investment firms more than double in the first two months of 2009.

This flip has occurred at a time when liberals are bashing Wall Street as the root of the economic recession and Democratic senators are keeping investment bankers at arm’s length.

Steve Elmendorf, a high-powered Democratic lobbyist who represents Citigroup, a major contributor in the past, said that Democrats are shunning money from his client because it has taken billions in federal bailout funds.

“People I raise money for are not accepting money from PACs of TARP recipients or senior executives of companies that took TARP funds,” said Elmendorf.

“This is true of every senatorial fundraiser I’ve been a part of.”

Another lobbyist who represents a major investment bank that accepted TARP funds said: “In the Senate, many if not most Democrats are not taking PAC contributions from banks that accepted TARP funds.”

The lobbyist said Democrats are also shunning contributions from senior executives at those firms.

Another factor hampering the flow of Wall Street money is the departure of Schumer and his fundraising staff from the DSCC.

Menendez persuaded Schumer’s political staff to stay at the committee, but the fundraising staff has moved to other jobs.

And while Menendez is also a member of the Banking panel, he is not seen as having as close a relationship with Wall Street’s powerbrokers as Schumer.

As New York’s senior senator, Schumer has represented lower Manhattan, the Mount Olympus of the nation’s finance sector, since 1999, and has had a say in every major piece of legislation affecting the industry over the past decade, say Senate sources.

Contributions from securities and investment firms to the DSCC nearly tripled during Schumer’s tenure as chairman.

Securities and investment firms gave $5.7 million to the DSCC when it was headed by former Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) in the 2004 election cycle.

These firms gave nearly $15 million last cycle under Schumer’s watch. In 2007 and 2008, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Fortress Investment Group and Citigroup ranked among the DSCC’s top 20 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Three of those firms, Goldman, JPMorgan and Citigroup, have accepted TARP funds.

(Securities and investment firms gave nearly $9 million to the DSCC in the 2002 cycle, when Democrats controlled the Senate.)

Personal relationships between the DSCC chairmen and large financial firms have influenced fundraising in the past. When Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive, headed the DSCC, Goldman employees gave $1.4 million to the committee, making it the third-largest donor of the cycle.

The DSCC has also seen a drop in contributions from commercial banks, many of which have accepted TARP funds. The committee raised $87,000 from commercial banks during the first two months of the 2008 cycle but collected only $45,000 in January and February of 2009.

The NRSC has seen an increase in contributions from commercial banks.