Is Wall Street Signing Its Own Warrant?

Paul Blumenthal has a compelling piece today at Huffington Post about the flight of financial sector money away from the Democratic Party potentially enabling a greater degree of Democratic economic populism:

In the last two elections, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Democratic Party committees and candidates saw their share of contributions from finance, insurance and real estate donors shrink to the lowest percentages since at least 1990. Democrats received only 32 percent (versus 68 percent for Republicans) in 2012 and just 38 percent (versus 62 percent for Republicans) in 2014.

The figures, when adjusted to 2013 dollars, also showed significant declines in the sheer amount of money raised from the financial sector by Democrats. The party’s $122 million haul in 2014 was its lowest total from the financial sector in a midterm election since 1998. The $170 million for 2012 was the lowest total for Democrats in a presidential election year since 1996.

Meanwhile, Republicans have never raised so much from the financial sector. The party pulled in a midterm record of $199 million in 2014 and a presidential cycle record of $356 million in 2012. That latter total was no doubt boosted by the presence of private equity multimillionaire Mitt Romney as the party’s standard-bearer.

This dramatic shift in financial resources is of major importance because the financial industry remains not only the largest sector of the economy — thanks to decisions made by policymakers in Washington — but also the largest source of campaign funds for federal elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the sector has made contributions of $3.8 billion (including donations to super PACs) since 1990 — $1.4 billion more than the next tracked sector. In any given year, the financial sector accounts for approximately 10 percent of all campaign donations.

What’s most remarkable about all of this is that Wall Street has–as usual–profited handsomely under a Democratic administration. The plutocrats enjoying record corporate profits and asset values have very little to complain about as a result of Democratic policies.

Still, it’s clear that while both parties are far too beholden to Wall Street’s interests, the Republican Party is much more willing to hand over every cent of the American economy to the fat cats. So it’s understandable that the parasitic hedge fund crowd would give its money to Republicans.

But like so many financial sector decisions, it may be shortsighted. Corrupting the Democratic Party with ill-gotten asset value gains taken from the pockets of wage earners has been instrumental in preventing the Democratic Party from standing firmer for the interests of American workers.

Moreover, studies have shown that after a certain level of spending, dumping even more money into campaign advertising doesn’t actually have a major effect on election outcomes. Certainly, the DCCC’s record fundraising push didn’t prevent Democrats from taking a drubbing in 2014.

So it’s entirely possible that by shunting even more money into Republican coffers, Wall Street could embolden Democrats to do the right thing, without actually significantly impacting Democrats’ electoral chances.

That’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.