So far in the 2016 election cycle, individuals associated with Bank of America have been among the top contributors to presidential candidates.
Through Sept. 30, Bank of America employees and their immediate family members donated $242,575 to the candidates’ campaign committees. That’s the third-highest among all U.S. companies and organizations, according to the most recent federal data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Donations from individuals tied to New York-based investment bank Goldman Sachs rank first at $401,109. That’s followed by $280,326 from people connected to Morgan & Morgan, a Florida-based personal injury law firm.
The giving echoes the 2012 presidential election, when people associated with Bank of America ranked second for donations, trailing only employees for the University of California system and their families.
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The early money underscores that bankers are eager to influence the 2016 race’s outcome at a time when Wall Street regulations and bailouts have played a leading role in candidates’ rhetoric.
Presidential candidates from both parties have been critical of big banks, saying they remain too large seven years after the financial crisis. Bank of America was mentioned by name during a GOP debate in November when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he wouldn’t bail out the company if it were on the brink of collapse in the future.
“I would expect to see donations continue to flow from that industry,” said Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “They have a lot to lose and a lot to gain.”
Republicans have received 58 percent of contributions from Bank of America employees this election cycle, down from 80 percent in 2012. Figures could change when campaign committees file their next reports at the end of January.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton has received the most from people connected to the Charlotte bank. Clinton’s $92,759 exceeds the $88,960 received by Jeb Bush, recipient of the most among Republican candidates.
Clinton has faced questions from her opponents about her ties to the financial sector – including in Saturday’s New Hampshire debate, when she responded to criticism by saying donations from Wall Street comprise a small percentage of her contributions. The former senator and secretary of state has vowed to break up big banks if they “don’t play by the rules.”
Republican Donald Trump, who has dominated polls, has received only $500, the federal data show.
Federal law requires candidates to report contributions from an individual only if that person’s combined contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle.
Bankers normally big donors
It’s not unusual for bankers to be some of the biggest contributors to campaign committees for presidential candidates.
During the 2012 presidential election, five of the top 10 companies by employee and family member donations were banks, including Wells Fargo. The San Francisco-based bank ranked sixth in 2012. For the 2016 cycle, it ranks 14th.
In the 2012 election, employees at each of the five banks and their family members outspent those for the U.S. government, Microsoft and Google. Individuals associated with Bank of America poured more than $1.3 million into campaign committees.
Such spending isn’t surprising. Since the financial crisis, bankers have had much at stake in what goes on in Washington. Republican lawmakers have continued seeking to scale back provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, which has placed new regulations on banks.
But bankers’ financial involvement in efforts to capture the White House goes back even further.
“There was a lot of interest in the 1990s in financial deregulation, and so banks were very active in trying to encourage those efforts and shape the rules that came out,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“And since then you’ve had the financial collapse. Now there are a number of new regulations coming out of Dodd-Frank that directly affect that sector,” he said.
Bankers have complained that the additional regulations are raising their compliance costs at a time when low interest rates are already straining their profitability.
“So the goal is to change some of the more intrusive regulations that impinge into the day-to-day operations of banks,” West said.
BofA execs among contributors
Some of Bank of America’s top executives have given to campaign committees for Republicans, others to Democrats.
Among them is Anne Finucane, the bank’s head of strategy and marketing, who contributed $2,700 in August to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s committee, Hillary for America.
Finucane, a Boston-based direct report to CEO Brian Moynihan, also gave to Clinton’s campaign committee during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential run.
In June, Moynihan direct reports Gary Lynch and Thomas Montag, both based in New York, contributed $2,700 each to Republican Jeb Bush’s committee, Jeb 2016. Montag also gave $100,000 in March to Right to Rise USA, a Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush.
Lynch will step down next year as Bank of America’s general counsel but remain a vice chairman, after helping the bank deal with a morass of legal issues stemming from the financial crisis. Montag serves as chief operating officer and head of Bank of America’s investment bank.
Federal law limits an individual to no more than $2,700 in contributions to a presidential candidate’s campaign committee per election. Primaries, runoffs and general elections are considered separate elections.
As of Sept. 30, Moynihan had not contributed to any candidates’ committees yet, according to data on the Federal Election Commission’s website. In 2007, he donated more than $2,000 to Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, the senator who would later co-sponsor the Dodd-Frank legislation.
Moynihan did not donate to any presidential candidate committee in the 2012 cycle, federal data show.
Bank of America declined to comment.
‘More likely to contribute’
Bank of America’s sheer size is likely a key factor behind its top ranking for campaign contributions from employees and family members. The bank employs about 215,200 people worldwide, including about 15,000 in Charlotte.
Investment bankers are probably another factor, said Bert Ely, an independent banking consultant, pointing to the employees who work in Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit.
“Stock brokers are probably on average somewhat more active and engaged politically and, therefore, likely to give politically than maybe commercial bank lending officers,” he said.
Plus, they are paid well, Ely said.
“Higher-income people I think are more likely to contribute,” he said. “They have more to give.”
Who’s getting donations from BofA employees?
Here’s a look at how much 2016 presidential candidates have received from individuals associated with the Charlotte bank, according to data as of Sept. 30 from the Center for Responsive Politics. The following does not reflect money from political action committees or super PACs.
Hillary Clinton, D: $92,759
Jeb Bush, R: $88,960
Ted Cruz, R: $11,331
Chris Christie, R: $9,870
Marco Rubio, R: $9,114
John Kasich, R: $8,150
Bernie Sanders, D: $6,179
Carly Fiorina, R: $4,797
Ben Carson, R: $4,565
Lawrence Lessig, D: $2,950
Lindsey Graham, R: $1,000
George Pataki, R: $500
Rick Santorum, R: $500
Donald Trump, R: $500
Martin O’Malley, D: $350
Jim Webb, D: $300
Mike Huckabee, R: $250
Rick Perry, R: $250
Scott Walker, R: $250
What about PACs?
The $242,575 Bank of America employees and their immediate family members donated to presidential candidates’ campaign committees through Sept. 30 does not include money those individuals gave to super PACs. But those individuals have given to the groups.
According to the latest federal data as of June 30, the bank’s employees have given $209,500 to super PACs for Republican presidential candidates only: $199,500 for Jeb Bush and $10,000 for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Super PACs can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions and individuals to promote candidates or go after their opponents. Under federal law, it is illegal for national banks to make contributions to super PACs, but employees and other individuals associated with the banks can.
Regular political action committees raise money to elect and defeat candidates but face limits on amounts they can give to a candidate’s committee in an election. Bank of America has a federal PAC, which supports House and Senate candidates but not those running for president.