Goldman Turns Tables on Obama Campaign
By LIZ RAPPAPORT and BRODY MULLINS
Wall Street Journal
Oct 9, 2012 - When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, no major U.S. corporation did more to finance his campaign than Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
This election, none has done more to help defeat him.
Prompted by what they call regulatory attacks on their business and personal attacks on their character, executives and employees of Goldman Sachs have largely abandoned Mr. Obama and are now the top sources of money to presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
In the four decades since Congress created the campaign-finance system, no company's employees have switched sides so abruptly, moving from top supporters of one camp to the top of its rival, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of campaign-finance data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Employees at Goldman donated more than $1 million to Mr. Obama when he first ran for president. This election, they have given the president's campaign $136,000—less than Mr. Obama has collected from employees of the State Department. The employees have contributed nothing to the leading Democratic super PAC supporting his re-election.
By contrast, Goldman employees have given Mr. Romney's campaign $900,000, plus another $900,000 to the super PAC founded to help him.
Underscoring the magnitude of the reversal, Goldman has been the No. 1 source of campaign cash to Democrats among companies during the 23 years the Center for Responsive Politics has been collecting such data.
In interviews with more than a dozen past and current Goldman executives, many said they felt betrayed by Democratic lawmakers and the White House, for years considered friendly allies. Several Goldman executives said they didn't want to speak out publicly against the president, and that their donations speak for themselves.
Jim Donovan, a banker formerly in charge of Goldman's relations with Bain & Co., the private-equity firm run by Mr. Romney, helped draw his colleagues' attention to the GOP candidate. "As a longtime friend to Mitt and Ann, I can attest that his conviction and strength on fixing the U.S. economy is compelling as are his values," said Mr. Donovan, who handles Mr. Romney's personal investments. "That is why there has been such a strong outpouring of support for Mitt from all sectors."
A Goldman spokesman said, "Donations are made by individual employees according to their own views." Goldman is prohibited by law from making corporate donations to political candidates; the firm also has a rule against donating to super PACs and other independent entities.
Resentments against the White House began, said senior Goldman executives, because the firm thought it would be consulted when the Obama administration began crafting regulations in response to the financial crisis. They weren't. Instead, they were surprised by a measure dubbed the Volcker rule, which would damage one of Goldman's lucrative businesses.
Goldman executives, especially those who had raised millions of dollars for Mr. Obama's election, said they were offended by the president's populist rhetoric, including his famous quip about "fat cat bankers."
"Look at what he did—he attacked those guys and made it personal," said Rick Hohlt, a financial-services lobbyist. "In the old days you give money because you want to have a seat at the table even if you get screwed. But they weren't even offering a seat at the table."
Both the White House and the Obama campaign declined to comment on the Goldman contributions.
The alarm sounding Goldman's shift came during a May 2011 Romney fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manhattan, not far from the firm's headquarters in Battery Park. The private luncheon was attended by so many senior executives that people referred to it as Mr. Romney's "cotillion," his debutante-style introduction into Goldman society.
Goldman's changing allegiance reflects a broader turnabout in the financial-services industry, once a top source of campaign cash for the Democratic Party.
Employees of J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.12% & Co., Citigroup Inc., C +0.03% Bank of America Corp., BAC -0.43% Morgan Stanley MS -0.29% and Goldman Sachs—five politically active banks—donated $3.5 million to Mr. Obama in 2008. They have given Mr. Obama $650,000 for the 2012 race, while sending $3.3 million to Mr. Romney.
Financial services was the second-largest source of campaign money to Mr. Obama's 2008 election, donating a record $43 million. This election, people in the industry have given him $12 million. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has received more than twice as much, making the financial-services sector his top source of campaign money.
At Goldman, the switch goes beyond the presidential contest. In 2008, its employees gave 75% of their $6 million in donations to Democrats; this election, 75% of their $6.5 million in contributions has gone to Republicans.
Both presidential candidates have plenty of campaign money. Mr. Obama announced this weekend he had raised a record $181 million in September.
Republicans haven't yet said how much Mr. Romney raised last month. In August, both sides broke previous records: the Obama campaign and its affiliates raised $114 million; Mr. Romney and his affiliates took in $111 million.
In total, Democrats have raised $742 million for the 2012 presidential election, while Mr. Romney has raised $638 million. Super PACs supporting Mr. Romney have far outraised those backing Mr. Obama, but labor unions are countering that spending with their own.
"Government Sachs," as the firm is known to its detractors, has long seen executives move seamlessly between Washington and Wall Street. Goldman has supplied, for example, two former Treasury secretaries—Democrat Robert Rubin and Republican Henry Paulson—and a former U.S. senator, former chief executive Jon Corzine, a Democrat in New Jersey.
The mingling of finance and politics began in the 1930s with Sidney Weinberg, a self-made man who ran Goldman for three decades and was a top fundraiser for Franklin D. Roosevelt. With Mr. Roosevelt's blessing, he formed the Business Advisory and Planning Council, the trade group that introduced executives to government leaders.
Since the Center for Responsive Politics began tracking campaign donations by company employees in 1989, people at Goldman have given more than $22.4 million to the Democratic Party and its candidates. That is the most among employees of all companies and on par with the largest labor unions. Goldman is between the AFL-CIO, $18.5 million, and the United Auto Workers, $27.5 million—totals that include donations from both employees and the unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is the largest contributor to Democrats at $45 million.
In March, the company's CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, sent a companywide email to Goldman employees encouraging them to donate to the Goldman PAC, which doesn't give to presidential candidates. Mr. Blankfein has identified himself as a Democrat but hasn't donated much to the party since a $35,000 contribution in 2007.
Goldman president Gary D. Cohn gave $75,000 to Democrats in 2008. In this election season, he has given $35,000—75% to Republicans. Newly named Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz has spent more than 90% of his donations this season on Republicans after a lifetime of Democratic giving.
After the financial crisis, Goldman became politically toxic, its name increasingly associated with greed and excessive pay. Politicians from both parties began returning donations.
Goldman executives complained they weren't being heard in Washington, and one reason cited was the Dodd-Frank financial services regulation bill supported by Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats. Analysts say the new rules—including demands on how much cash cushion banks must store, their use of derivatives and limits on risk-taking—have shrunk bank profits in the past two years.
Wall Street pressed hard against the new rules, but many investors were heartened by the increased oversight. Goldman's shares have rebounded 35% since their low point in October 2008, closing Monday at $119.46 a share. The S&P 500, measuring the largest U.S. companies, has rallied 62% in the same period and has more than doubled since its rock bottom in March 2009.
Four years ago, Goldman shared in bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, money the firm said at the time it didn't need. The capital helped rebuild investor confidence, but made Goldman more accountable to regulators.
One part of the new law, the Volcker rule, was designed to limit risk-taking—in particular, trading by banks for their own profit rather than for customers, known as proprietary trading.
Though the final rule has yet to take effect, Goldman has already shut down proprietary trading desks, divested other investments and shed securities. The desks had generated about $200 million in revenue a quarter. Revenues from this business unit accounted for as much as 10% of revenue some years.
The rule wasn't targeted at Goldman, but it hit the firm harder than other Wall Street firms because Goldman Sachs doesn't offer such retail services as credit cards or home mortgages to make up for lost profits.
In April 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused it of financial misdealing in a mortgage-related deal. The SEC said the firm misled some clients by selling them mortgage-related securities months before the crash of the housing market. They alleged it was unfair to not disclose that another client, a hedge fund, had helped design the securities and bet they would fail.
After the SEC filed charges, Democrats called Mr. Blankfein and other Goldman executives to Capitol Hill for days of televised hearings. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan accused Goldman of "unbridled greed" and, a year later, of lying to Congress.
Goldman agreed to pay a $550 million fine. It acknowledged mistakes but not any wrongdoing. The Justice Department said in August that it wouldn't investigate Mr. Levin's allegation of contempt of Congress.
The last straw for many came two weeks later. At the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, the president drew laughs at their expense. "All of the jokes here tonight are brought to you by our friends at Goldman Sachs," Mr. Obama said, referring to the SEC allegations. "So you don't have to worry—they make money whether you laugh or not."
A year later, Goldman senior executives held their Romney fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton, drawing 80 people.
Mr. Romney was introduced by John Whitehead, a former Goldman chief who served as a deputy secretary of state in the Reagan administration. Mr. Whitehead is what Goldman partners call a "credentializer," someone whose political opinions matter at the firm. Executives attended from all arms of Goldman—including investment banking, money management and technology banking.
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The event raised about $70,000. But to Goldman executives, more important was the signal that it was acceptable to support the Romney campaign.
Muneer Satter, then a Goldman partner, encouraged his colleagues to open their wallets. Based in Chicago, Mr. Satter supported Mr. Obama before his 2008 presidential bid. Mr. Satter also donated to Mr. Romney's unsuccessful effort to win the Republican nomination that year.
This election, Mr. Satter is backing Mr. Romney. He is helping with fundraising and donated $310,000 to a super PAC supporting Mr. Romney. "There are people on both sides of the aisle and there always have been at Goldman," he said. "People make their own judgments about who can actually solve problems." He said he believed Mr. Romney was best suited to help the economy and the nation.
Mr. Satter, who left Goldman in June on good terms, had worked in private-equity funds imperiled by the Volcker rule.
Goldman partner Henry Cornell donated to Mr. Obama in 2008 and is now a vocal Romney supporter. Soon after Mr. Romney announced he was running for president, Mr. Cornell sent him a check for $2,500.
In May, Mr. Cornell held a fundraising dinner for Mr. Romney at his apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side. There were four dinner tables, each seating 10 people at $75,000 a plate. Among the guests was Mr. Cohn, the president of Goldman, who didn't pay to attend.
Bruce Heyman, a 32-year Goldman executive based in Chicago, is one of the firm's few outspoken Obama supporters. "I am sensitive to the emotions" of Wall Street, he said. "But if you look at the facts, Mr. Obama is pro-business."
Mr. Heyman serves as a top fundraiser for Mr. Obama, and his wife is helping run the president's re-election campaign in Illinois. Last month, he was one of a handful of Goldman executives in Charlotte, N.C., to attend the Democratic National Convention.
On the night of the keynote speech by former President Bill Clinton, Mr. Heyman met with two other Goldman executives: Jennifer Scully-Lerner, a former staffer at the Democratic National Committee, and Jake Siewert, a former aide to both Mr. Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
At a party that night, they joked they were probably the only Goldman people at the convention.
Write to Liz Rappaport at firstname.lastname@example.org and Brody Mullins at email@example.com