Maryland investment firms haven't abandoned Democrats

Wall Street opponents of regulation give heavily to Republicans

October 14, 2012|By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

Wall Street might have turned its back on Democrats this election, but that's not the case among Maryland investment firms.

The vast majority of contributions to candidates by T. Rowe Price employees went to Democrats. And Democrats were the beneficiaries of all candidate donations by Brown Capital Management workers — with President Barack Obama receiving the bulk.

But even in this deep-blue state, Democrats don't have a lock on political contributions. The top recipient of donations by Legg Mason employees: Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.

This is expected to be the most expensive election ever and, as usual, employees in the investment and securities industry — or Wall Street — will be one of the largest sources of money.

Nationally, Wall Street employee contributions to candidates, parties and political action committees have reached $192.9 million this election cycle, already smashing the 2008 record by about more than $22 million, according to the latest figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics using data from the Federal Election Commission.

Four years ago, 57 percent of the money from Wall Street employees went to Democrats, the group said. Now the tables have turned. Nearly 70 percent of the dollars in this 2011-2012 election cycle are going to Republicans.

One reason for the reversal is that Republicans now have a solid majority in the House, and Wall Street contributors want to keep that by backing GOP incumbents, said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow with the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.

Wall Street executives also have soured on Obama, who once called them "fat-cat bankers" and signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform act, which restricts financial institutions' activities. The Sunlight Foundation reported last year that at least a dozen bills to repeal or change Dodd-Frank had been introduced in Congress — all by Republicans.

"People on Wall Street feel that Obama has demonized them unfairly … and that Obama hasn't given them the respect that they deserve," Drutman said.

And many at securities and investment firms just feel more comfortable with Obama's opponent.

"Romney is one of their own. He hails from the private equity industry and is seen as someone who understands … the challenges in the industry," said Sheila Krumholz, Responsive Politics' executive director.

That said, Krumholz added, money from Wall Street likely will pour into the Obama campaign near Election Day if it appears the president will win.

Many executives at Maryland investment firms would not comment about their political donations. But when these executives and their employees give, it's often to incumbent congressional candidates. And in Maryland, that means mostly giving to Democrats, who hold both Senate seats and six of the eight House seats here.

This makes sense if the strategy is to maintain access and friendly relations with incumbents in safe races, said Sunlight's Drutman. "There's no point in giving to the opponent and … upsetting the incumbent."

At Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price, for instance, 83 percent of the $97,600 donated to candidates by employees went to Democrats, according to Responsive Politics' most recent figures. The top recipient is incumbent Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, raking in $22,500.

Among Price's top management, the most generous contributor is Vice Chairman Edward C. Bernard, who gave heavily to Democrats — though not exclusively.

He donated $5,000 each to Cardin, Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes and Ohio Rep. Betty Sue Sutton, and $2,000 each to Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper — all Democrats. His one donation to a Republican was $1,000 to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who this year faced his first primary challenge in decades.

In addition, Bernard gave $17,900 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,000 to the political action committee of the Investment Company Institute, a lobby for the mutual fund industry. The ICI PAC, in turn, has given to Maryland Democrats.

But top managers don't necessarily donate in lockstep with each other or with the rank and file.

Price Chairman Brian Rogers gave mostly to GOP candidates this election cycle — $5,000 each to Romney and Republican House speaker John Boehner, $2,500 to Romney Victory Inc., and $1,000 to Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Rogers also donated $2,000 each to Democratic Sens. Cardin and Carper.

Rogers said in an email that he doesn't publicly comment on his political activity. That said, Rogers noted that "person is more important than party," and that all the people he gave to this election cycle are "smart folks interested in pursuing pragmatic solutions to our serious fiscal issues."

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