WASHINGTON — Though Democrats scored a big political victory in passing regulatory reform, many are already paying for it as the financial services industry directs more of its contributions toward Republicans and moderates who tried to pare back the revamp.
Bankers have traditionally favored business-friendly Republicans, but they appear more cognizant of the stakes this year. The GOP has a good shot at capturing the House and an off chance of retaking the Senate. If the Republicans seize either chamber, it could help efforts to revisit lost battles from the regulatory reform campaign.
"Although there is no 100% fail-safe way to decipher it, it doesn't take a very big leap to see that financial reform has been a major driver in having Wall Street-related donations go the way of Republicans," said Dave Levinthal, the director of communications at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money in politics. "Wall Street simply wasn't happy with the process and not terribly thrilled with the results."
Political action committees of commercial banks have contributed a total of $5.4 million to candidates this cycle, with 55% of it going to Republicans as of Aug. 22, according to the center. Among the favored recipients, besides Republicans, were those holding leadership posts and a handful of Democrats who fought to moderate the reform.
Leading the commercial bank PAC beneficiaries is House Minority Leader John Boehner, who got $79,500 and would probably become Speaker of the House if the Republicans win a majority; Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., a fiscal conservative in a tight race for reelection who got $77,750 and represents a state with major banking interests; Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Banking Committee, who got $66,500, and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., a senior Financial Services Committee member, who is running for the Senate and got $65,500.
Coming in fifth among commercial bank PAC recipients, at $62,500, is Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill., a key moderate who lobbied to minimize the derivatives push-out for banks. Right behind her, at $58,500, is Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, who narrowly lost an effort to kill the consumer financial protection agency in the House last year and replace it with a council of regulators.
Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the No. 1 GOP member of the House Financial Services Committee, got the 11th-biggest amount from bank PACs, $52,500.
To be sure, banks were still careful to give substantially to Democrats, particularly those in top spots.
"Obviously, the votes on reg reform are going to be a very important part of the calculus, … but you don't just look at that, you look at were they instrumental on a very important amendment," said Edward Yingling, the president and chief executive of the American Bankers Association.
"I would say, this year, the bankers in the states are going to look more carefully than ever before because they are very concerned about the overall impact of this legislation," he said. "They feel that, frankly, in a number of cases, Congress didn't understand the difference between traditional banks and those that caused the problems, so there's some anger out there among the bankers about how they have been treated over the last few years."
The ABA's campaign contributions through Aug. 31 were even more heavily tilted toward the GOP than the industry average; 61% of its $1.9 million in contributions went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Though Yingling said plenty of the ABA's PAC money remains to be doled out, the organization clearly is favoring Republicans in several competitive and open-seat races but insists it makes such determinations on a case-by-case basis, largely based on recommendations from its state-association affiliates. "We held back a little bit this year in the PAC to see how everything turned out and how people voted," Yingling said.
The ABA gave 64% of its money to Republicans in the 2006 cycle, during which the Democrats won control of both chambers, and 58% to GOP candidates in the last election cycle, when Democrats padded their majorities.
Some lawmakers on the other side of crucial issues also received bank contributions, including Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., the Financial Services Committee's capital markets subcommittee chairman, who fought to include a provision giving regulators the power to break up big banks. He got the 20th-largest amount of commercial bank PAC contributions, $42,000.
"Folks who are either very intimately involved with banking and financial issues or who hold positions of leadership on key committees also are usually the ones who are receiving a good deal of campaign cash from the commercial banking industry," said Levinthal.
The overarching question in the House is whether Republicans will win control. The GOP must win a net 39 seats to seize the majority. Political analysts are projecting GOP pickups of 28 to 45 seats, indicating that a change in control is a real possibility.
Should the House flip, many questions about leadership of the Financial Services Committee would be thrown up in the air.
Though Bachus is first in line to become chairman if Republicans win the House, observers are split as to whether he would get the job. (Indeed, they are also divided on whether he would keep his position as ranking member if Democrats retain control.)
Though he has been more aggressive during the past two years, Bachus has a gentle style and prefers allowing consensus to set a course rather than driving the legislative agenda himself.
In the past, he has been a moderate on issues like anti-predatory lending, to the chagrin of some of his colleagues. As a result, they pushed him after 2008 to sharpen his attacks against Democratic policies, pressing him to become more aggressive.
But Bachus has had trouble acting as a counterweight to committee Chairman Barney Frank, who is notoriously impatient and a top-notch debater.
"It's far from a certainty that Spencer Bachus would become a chairman if the Republicans took back the House," said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst at Washington Research Group, a division of Concept Capital. "There is a lot of internal Republican politics that may make it tough for him to retain that chairmanship. … There are philosophical differences within the Republican caucus on financial issues, and the question is whether the caucus is comfortable with the approach of Rep. Bachus."
Still, Bachus has survived such rumors before, and his office said that, if the House flips, he would become chairman. He remains well-liked and has raised a lot of money for fellow Republicans.
Leadership posts such as chairman and ranking member are decided by the Republican Steering Committee, which is made up of senior committee members, party leaders with weighted votes and representatives covering geographic regions.
If Bachus were replaced, several candidates would have a shot at the post, including Rep. Ed Royce of California, currently the panel's No. 4 GOP member, who was praised by conservatives for his role in the regulatory reform conference.
Also on deck are two active subcommittee ranking members, Reps. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, both of whom would also have to leapfrog several more senior committee Republicans. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex., who was appointed by Bachus as vice ranking member, has also logged considerable time presiding over committee proceedings for the GOP but is considered a dark-horse candidate.
On the Democratic side, the picture is no clearer.
For one, it is uncertain whether Frank would want to stay in Congress in the minority. His pet issue is housing, and he has said in the past that he would like to become secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department once he retires from Congress.
A spokesman for Frank knocked down the idea, saying, "We don't plan to lose the House."
He added, "A few years ago, Barney told his biographer that he might consider working as HUD secretary after he retires, but I heard him say more recently that he has decided against that."
Frank has given no signal that he wants to leave should the Democrats lose in November — on the contrary, he is campaigning throughout the summer recess for himself and others in his party — but speculation about his next move has grown in recent weeks.
"Given Chairman Frank's deep interest in housing, it would be foolish to simply reject outright the notion that he could become HUD secretary if the Democrats lose the House," said Seiberg.
"HUD provides the ultimate bully pulpit to advocate for rental housing and affordable housing."
Should Frank opt to leave, his probable successor is unclear. Kanjorski, the panel's No. 2, is facing a tough reelection race, which he may lose. If the Pennsylvania Democrat does lose, next in line would be Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who is awaiting an ethics trial. Should she step aside or be harmed by the trial, both of which are considered unlikely, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would be next in line to be the panel's senior Democrat.
A number of relatively junior House Financial Services Committee Democrats are facing competitive races this year. Some Republicans estimate they could pick up 12 to 15 seats of such members in November.
"I think there are 15 that are seriously threatened," said Greg Blair a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"Every one of them is either a freshman or a sophomore, and they are all facing very strong challengers. I would expect to see that a good number of them as of right now will not be coming back. And I'm sure as we wear on into the fall and into November, we are going to see a whole lot more dropping off, too."
Republicans say they believe Democrats' bet that financial reform would help them win reelection is backfiring. "One of the great disappointments of the summer has been that financial reform did not resonate as much as Democrats were counting on it to resonate," added Blair. "They made this one of their benchmark issues for turning around the tide of the 2010 election and then they passed a bill and politically it didn't amount to a whole lot for them."
Democrats, however, argue that Republicans' aligning themselves as defenders of Wall Street is a recipe for disaster with voters.
"Republicans have been trying to milk Wall Street for everything it's worth," said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Ultimately what Democrats want to prevent is another big bailout. … In terms of politics, the very last thing that voters want in any of these races that we are seeing in the polling is to go back and repeal the main part of the checks that were placed on Wall Street to prevent another financial meltdown."
Democrats are arguing that Republicans' raking in the banking industry's largess shows them on the wrong side of the issue of ending bailouts and stopping risky practices. However, Rudominer acknowledged that bankers' dollars pouring in to GOP coffers gives them a funding advantage.
"It's not helpful, certainly," he said, "but when you look at the politics of the issue, I think you are likely to see a lot of ads coming throughout the fall that's going to focus on whose side is your representative on or whose side are candidates on. What Republicans have been all about is trying to reap financial rewards from blocking the common-sense reforms the Democrats fought for."
High on the list of House Financial Services Committee Democrats in tough races is Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, a former county commissioner and school board member. The embattled freshman was appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the financial reform conference committee to boost her visibility by giving her a role on a prominent Democratic issue.
She has pushed for the Medical Debt Relief Act, which would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act and prohibit medical debts that have been paid or settled from being used in assessing consumer credit scores; she has cast her opponent, Republican Steve Stivers, as a friend of Wall Street. A spokesman would not comment for this story, but Kilroy has made financial reform a key part of her race.
"While the president is signing the Wall Street reform bill Mary Jo Kilroy helped write, Steve Stivers will be raising big bucks from bank lobbyists at an exclusive Washington fund-raiser. Whose side are you on?" asks her campaign website.
She also portrays herself as a champion of consumer protection, saying she "helped to lead the fight against abusive credit card companies and end predatory lending practices."
"I will continue to protect central Ohio's consumers on the House Financial Services Committee," she said on her campaign website.
Kilroy's district, which includes western Columbus and surrounding suburbs, is the seat formerly held by senior financial services Republican Deborah Pryce, who did not seek reelection in 2008 after winning by a razor-thin margin two years earlier.
Republicans began targeting Kilroy's seat almost as soon as she won it. Stivers, who formerly worked for Bank One and is favored by the banking industry, lost to Kilroy in 2008 by 2,311 votes after a recount.
Commercial banks were the No. 2 industry contributing to Stivers' campaign, with $62,050 in combined donations from bank PACs and people who work in the industry as of Aug. 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
By contrast, commercial banks do not even register among Kilroy's top 20 industry contributors.
Rep. Alan Grayson, is another embattled low-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee whose seat is considered a toss-up.
The Florida lawmaker has stood out for occasionally flamboyant displays in the committee. Known to frequently don flashy neckties, he has harshly questioned the Federal Reserve Board's actions during the financial crisis and criticized the bailouts of too-big-to-fail companies.
He co-sponsored the bill offered by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., to audit the Fed and was one of only three Democrats to join Republicans in a letter to President Obama in July 2009 asking the administration not to give the Fed systemic oversight authority.
During the regulatory reform debate in committee last year, he fought for adoption of an amendment that would disclose, after one year, the names of borrowers using the Fed's emergency 13(3) credit facilities.
On the consumer protection agency, he spearheaded an amendment that would let the agency director ban any product or service deemed to have caused a substantial number of bankruptcies or foreclosures.
Grayson has not gotten any noteworthy financial support from commercial banks.
The top sectors supporting Grayson are Democratic/liberal, leadership PACs and public-sector unions.
His Republican opponent, former state Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster, won a Republican primary late last month and has already been deemed a "Young Gun" by the NRCC, meaning he is regarded as a rising star among conservative leaders the party is aiming to promote.
Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho is still considered ahead but is in a challenging race after serving his first term in Congress. Though he is close in the polls, he has a major fund-raising advantage over Republican Raul Labrador, including $60,725 from commercial banks through Aug. 1, his seventh-largest industry contributor.
The Financial Services Roundtable is Minnick's fourth-largest individual contributor (aggregating donations from the trade group's PAC and individuals who work for the organization), with $11,500, and he has $10,725 from the ABA. He made headlines last year for his attempt to thwart the consumer financial protection agency with an alternative to create a council of regulators to do the task. His amendment lost, 223 to 208.
In July, he introduced a bill to stabilize the commercial real estate market, geared toward small and midsize institutions. It would let the Treasury Department set up a credit guarantee program for commercial real estate loans.
In June, when the House approved a bill to create a $30 billion fund for community banks to boost lending to small businesses, it adopted a Minnick amendment that would let non-owner-occupied commercial real estate loans count as small-business loans.
Other Financial Services Committee Democrats who are in competitive races this year, though generally getting little attention from bankers, include Reps. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Steve Dreihaus of Ohio, Travis Childers of Mississippi, Bill Foster of Illinois, John Adler of New Jersey and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Besides Castle, two other members who will not be returning next year are Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who is running for Senate, and Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., who is retiring.
Next in the series: Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., the No. 2 Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, faces a tough reelection campaign; his loss could shake up the panel's leadership.
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