Blog Post: Wall Street Money in 2020 Elections

Wall Street is pumping tremendous sums of money into the 2020 elections, and there are some notable trends regarding who is getting the money and who, within the financial services industry, is contributing this cycle.

At the presidential level, Wall Street is splitting its contributions close to evenly, or maybe slightly favoring Biden over Trump. Overall, according to NPR, of the $800 million that the finance, insurance, and real estate sector gave to all politicians, a little more than half went to Democrats.

At the same time, it is fairly clear that Wall Street is investing in keeping the Senate in Republican hands. This spreadsheet tracks money being put into Senate races. In almost all the races that the Cook Political Report rates as competitive, the Republican candidate gets more money from Wall Street, sometimes a lot more. A second spreadsheet tracks the largest donors to each candidate from the financial sector. Goldman Sachs, along with private equity firms including KKR, Blackstone, and Apollo Global, are major donors.

Also, according to Axios, about 65 percent of donations by the American Investment Council PAC, the political arm of the private equity industry’s main trade association, has gone to Republicans. Eight of the 9 candidates that AIC supports are Republicans.

This strategy comes across clearly in endorsements made by the American Bankers Association, which include three Republicans in tough re-election battles (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina) and one Democrat (Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware) who does not face a serious challenge to his re-election this year, according to the Cook Report.

Friends of Traditional Banking is a PAC that bills itself as an organization of community bankers. It states clearly on its website that its goal is to keep Republicans in charge in the Senate. “What can YOU kick in to the three above to save the Senate for our industry and American prosperity?” they write. The group endorsed Ernst, Tillis, and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Two major Super PACs that help Senate candidates show considerable interest from Wall Street, and particularly from private equity. The Senate Majority PAC, affiliated with Democrats,  shows contributions from executives associated with Paloma Partners, Renaissance Technologies and Blackstone’s Jonathan Gray. 

The Senate Leadership Fund is associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), and shows contributions from executives from executives associated with firms including Schwab, Mellon, and Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman. According to McClatchy, this Super PAC is also making a late push into South Carolina, where Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is in a dead heat with his opponent, Jaime Harrison.

Schwarzman is in a class of his own this election cycle. According to Reuters, this lifelong Republican has spent $27 million backing his preferred candidates this round. Of that, $20 million went to the Senate Leadership Fund. Bloomberg calculated that Schwarzman put $3.7 million into various Trump-affiliated PACs and the Republican National Committee, the lion’s share of the $4.8 million that private equity as a whole donated to those entities.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wall Street’s interest in keeping the Senate in Republican hands dovetails with private equity specifically. “Private equity is very invested in some high-profile Senate races, particularly as the polls have shifted and seem to indicate a possible Democratic sweep,” said Milan Dalal, managing partner of Tiger Hill Partners and a former Senate aide. “A number of people in the PE industry view the Senate as a potential bulwark against more aggressive policies.”