Finance: Friends or foes of Wall Street? It's hard to tell with the Clintons
WASHINGTON >> Hillary Rodham Clinton wants voters to know she is no friend of Wall Street. But Wall Street has frequently been a friend to her.
In the 18 months prior to announcing her second campaign for president, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination addressed private equity investors in California and New York, delivered remarks to bankers in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and spoke to brokers at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida.
Her efforts capped a nearly 15-year period in which Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made at least $35 million by giving 164 speeches to financial services, real estate and insurance companies after leaving the White House in 2001, according to an Associated Press analysis of public disclosure forms and records released by her campaign.
Key campaign issue
The long and lucrative relationship between the Clinton family and the nation's finance industry has emerged as a key issue in her Democratic primary race. Her rivals, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, accuse her of being too cozy with Wall Street and the industry she once represented as a senator from New York.
His criticism plays into an argument her GOP rivals have long made, that Clinton can't be trusted and will flout the rules to get ahead.
Her backers in the financial industry say they have little expectation her family's personal profits will influence her policymaking, noting their own opposition to her plan to raise taxes on hedge fund and private equity gains known as carried interest.
"She and Bill were both government servants all of their life, and there was a set period of time when they could make money," said venture capitalist Alan Patricof, a longtime Clinton fundraiser, of the Clintons' paid speechmaking. "She had to maximize her earning potential."
The Clinton campaign also points to her record, saying it shows a history of working to regulate the industry. Negative ads run by a group called Future 45, a super PAC backed by six-figure checks from hedge fund managers, demonstrate that Wall Street expects her to follow through, aides said.
"Any honest look at Hillary Clinton's record shows she spoke out early and often against Wall Street's excesses in the run-up to the financial crisis," said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. "It's clear they believe she will take action as president to crack down on the industry's abuses."
After the recession
The bulk of the Clintons' paid speeches to the financial industry came after the 2008 economic crash. From 2009 to 2014, the couple made $26 million from 109 appearances sponsored by banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms and real estate businesses, and at those industries' conferences and before their trade organizations.
With Hillary Clinton serving as secretary of state for most of that period, her husband brought in the bulk of the money, nearly $17 million. That included $250,000 Bill Clinton earned for mingling with investment managers in New York on May 12 — thirty days after she released a video announcing her second bid for the White House.
Advocates for boosting financial regulation say the large personal payouts underscore a political imperative for Clinton to take tough policy positions.
"She needs to show that she is not too cozy with the banks, and that makes it even more important for her to draw a clear line and propose very tough measures," said Robert Reich, a secretary of labor during the Clinton administration who has advised Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Exactly what the Clintons said in their speeches is hard to find. Although many of the remarks were given to large groups, reporters were typically barred. Often, Hillary Clinton's contract expressly prohibited the remarks from being broadcast, transcribed or "otherwise reproduced," according a copy of her agreement for one speech with the University of Buffalo.
Still, some details have trickled out.
When she addressed the National Multifamily Housing Council in April 2013, she focused on foreign affairs, including the Arab Spring and North Korea, and deflected questions about whether she would run for president, according to a post on the organization's website that has since been taken down.
A reporter from the real estate blog The Real Deal was at her October 2014 speech to the annual convention of the Commercial Real Estate Women Network in Miami Beach. Clinton focused her remarks on boosting the number of women in their field, telling more than 1,200 attendees that industry groups must work to "achieve parity."
"Bold choices (offer) big return," she said, according to the blog. "It's so important for women like us to get out of our comfort zones and be willing to fail. I've done that, too, on a very large stage."
Beyond the personal income, Clinton also has close political ties to the finance industry. Over the course of her career, from her 2000 run for the Senate to the two presidential campaigns, people working in the finance, insurance and real estate industries have given her campaigns about $35 million — more than donors from any other lines of work, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Her top two contributors over those years were employees from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, the center found.
Since her husband left the White House, the family's charity, the Clinton Foundation, has collected millions more from the industry, with companies such as Barclay's, Citigroup, Fidelity, HSBC and Goldman Sachs listed as donating as much as $5 million each.
In public remarks, Clinton casts herself as having offered a major rebuke of the industry in 2007, before the economic downturn that led to the Great Recession. "I went to Wall Street in December of 2007 — before the big crash that we had — and I basically said, 'Cut it out!'" she said in this year's first Democratic primary debate.
But while she suggested steps to regulate the industry in that 2007 speech, she was careful to strike a more balanced tone, saying "there's plenty of blame to go around."
Less than a year later, she backed the $700 billion bank stabilization plan, known as TARP, to bail out the industry in the midst of the financial crisis — a bill Sanders voted against.
"In fairness, not many in politics were on top of the issue," said Brad Miller, a Democratic former North Carolina congressman and an advocate of tougher financial regulation. "No one knew the effects of the bad mortgages on the financial system. I certainly didn't."
Both Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, another Democratic rival, support reinstating the law that once separated commercial and investment banking. Known as Glass-Steagall, it was repealed in 1999 during her husband's administration.
While Clinton doesn't rule out breaking up the big banks, she argues that restoring Glass-Steagall wouldn't go far enough to curb risk. Instead, she would impose a graduated fee on large financial firms that would increase as companies hold greater amounts of debt, to discourage excessive risk.
A separate tax would be levied on high-frequency trading, and she has vowed tougher criminal penalties for individuals who break the rules. She would also raise taxes on the wealthy, including closing the so-called carried interest loophole that allows some Wall Street profits to be taxed at a lower rate.
"I go after not just the banks," Clinton told Democrats in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday. "I go after the hedge funds, big insurance companies, shadow banking."
Dennis Kelleher, president and chief executive of Better Markets, a financial watchdog group, said that while financial reformers are wary of her family's relationships on Wall Street, her agenda includes "some very tough things that no one else is talking about."
Those proposals aren't worrying her backers on Wall Street, who argue that her time representing New York gives Clinton a deep understanding of how their industry works. They note that she's avoided vilifying their industry as has Sanders, who recent described their business model as "fraud" or even President Barack Obama, who angered some of his donors when he called Wall Street investors as "a bunch of fat cat bankers" in a 2009 interview.
Her proposals also don't do much to win some who feel the better choice for the industry will be found among the GOP's candidates.
Donors working in the finance and insurance industry have given $22 million to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and $21 million to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and their affiliated super PACs — roughly three times as much as to Clinton and the outside group supporting her, according to Crowdpac.com, a nonpartisan political research company.
"People on Wall Street view her with a level of caution that they didn't view President Clinton with," said Anthony Scaramucci, a major Republican donor and founder of SkyBridge Capital, which paid Clinton $175,000 to address its annual investment conference in 2010. "It's this progressive nonsense."