Wall Street is throwing its financial support to Bush
Executives pleased with initiatives of past four years
NEW YORK -- One unseasonably cool evening in late October, a group of Wall Street bankers waited aboard a ferry in New York Harbor for the short trip to Ellis Island and a thank-you event for major backers of President Bush's reelection campaign.
Ordinarily, the bankers -- unaccustomed to waiting for anything -- might be annoyed. But on this night they were placid, even though Charlie Black, a top adviser to the campaign, was running late.
The Bush administration had given the bankers almost everything they ever dreamed of: a reduction in dividend and capital-gains taxes, a phase-out of the estate tax, an overall reduction in income taxes. So they waited patiently, eager to do whatever they could to ensure the president's reelection.
"Wall Street runs on a good economy, and the president has given us that," said Mallory Factor, a merchant banker who was among those on the boat. "Then you look at the alternatives on the other side. Either one of those things is enough to make you support the president."
And that's just what Wall Street has done, to an unprecedented extent. Unlike in 2000, when the industry hedged its bets between Bush and Vice President Al Gore, Wall Street thus far has put the bulk of its muscle behind the Republican incumbent.
Through late November, employees of securities industry firms had given at least $4 million to the Bush campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number will rise significantly -- probably to well over $7 million -- when figures for the full year are reported at the end of this month. As of late November, no Democrat had raised more than $1 million from the industry.
The Bush campaign is not eager to discuss the enthusiastic support it is receiving from Wall Street. Spokesman Scott Stanzel declined to discuss the matter, saying only that the president had raised money from "nearly half a million supporters representing every county in every state."
That reluctance may reflect the fact that the 2004 campaign is unfolding in a very different environment from 2000, a year in which stocks hit their bull-market highs and Enron was still a corporate powerhouse.
Since then, the stock market bubble burst and a series of corporate scandals -- many either directly or indirectly involving Wall Street firms -- rocked investor confidence. Some of those scandals have been pursued by New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, a politically ambitious Democrat who has become a thorn in the side of the industry, and corporate wrongdoing has become a frequent theme in the message of Democrats vying to run against Bush.
Meanwhile, the figures for Bush actually understate the power of his Wall Street support.
Top bankers and Wall Street executives have Rolodexes brimming with wealthy friends from every industry, people for whom writing a $2,000 check, the new limit for individual contributions to federal candidates, hardly requires a second thought.
Brokers and bankers in New York and across the country said in interviews that they had made dozens of calls on Bush's behalf, helping in part to explain the campaign's ability to raise $130 million in 2003, shattering the previous record for fundraising by a presidential candidate in a single year.
"I placed a cold call to Mercer Reynolds and asked if I could be supportive," said a top executive in a Midwestern office of one of Wall Street's biggest firms. He was referring to the Bush campaign finance director, himself a former banker with deep ties to Wall Street. "Mercer asked me to call clients and friends, and that's what I did."
The banker, who requested anonymity, said he talked to chief executives of big companies as well as the heads of major law and other professional service firms. "Almost no one said no. And most of them agreed to solicit contributions themselves."
The list of "Rangers," those who have raised at least $200,000 each for Bush, reads like a roster of Wall Street power brokers. It includes the chief executives of Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS Wealth Management USA, Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., and insurance giant American International Group Inc.
Factor, an independent banker and major GOP fundraiser in New York, is on the list as well. So is New York Governor George E. Pataki, who put his powerful Wall Street fundraising network at Bush's disposal. Other Wall Street executives, including Goldman Sachs & Co. chief executive Henry M. Paulson Jr., Bear Stearns & Co. chief executive James E. Cayne, and Goldman Sachs executive George Herbert Walker (the president's second cousin) are "Pioneers," meaning they have raised at least $100,000 for the president.
Wall Street is not lining up behind the president only for past favors. The industry has a long legislative and regulatory wish list for the presidential term ahead. "People are looking for the next administration and Congress to expand and make permanent the tax cuts" of the last three years, said Marc E. Lackritz, president of the Securities Industry Association, Wall Street's main trade group.
Other items on Wall Street's wish list include increasing the number of tax-favored savings and investment accounts. In his State of the Union message, Bush reiterated an earlier proposal to allow some Americans to divert some of their Social Security money into private investment accounts.