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Which Senators are Flush with Finance Cash?

April 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

“The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

That’s Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL] speaking earlier this year on the political influence of the finance industry.

In a few weeks, the banks’ “ownership” of Congress will really be put to the test. The Senate is going to take up comprehensive financial regulatory reform legislation in May — this is the main bill the banks have been using their political capital on to fight, and the Senate is where they are hoping they can make the bill friendlier to their ways of business.

Earlier this week, Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation ran down the top 20 senators who receiving the most financial industry money over the entire length of their careers. Here I’m taking a look at the top senators receiving the most finance industry during the current election cycle only. This is where the industry is focusing their influence right now. The similarities and the differences are both interesting, and I’ll explain a little of that below. First, here are the 20 senators who, so far, have received the most finance/insurance/real estate money during the 2010 cycle (data from CRP):

  1. Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY] — $2,987,139
  2. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] — $1,424,750
  3. Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] — $1,264,067
  4. Sen. Christopher Dodd [D, CT] — $1,210,688
  5. Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] — $971,364
  6. Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] — $896,738
  7. Sen. Michael Bennet [D, CO] — $816,996
  8. Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] — $767,000
  9. Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA] — $650,875
  10. Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] — $509,401
  11. Sen. Robert Bennett [R, UT] — $493,225
  12. Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] — $483,300
  13. Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN] — $463,967
  14. Sen. David Vitter [R, LA] — $461,591
  15. Sen. Richard Burr [R, NC] — $457,249
  16. Sen. John Thune [R, SD] — $452,950
  17. Sen. Jim DeMint [R, SC] — $404,276
  18. Sen. Byron Dorgan [D, ND] — $383,050
  19. Sen. Charles Grassley [R, IA] — $381,819
  20. Sen. Michael Crapo [R, ID] — $371,671

Here are some quick observations comparing the above list of top recipients of finance money in 2010 with Blumenthal’s list of top all-time recipients.

More Banking Committee members — In this election cycyle, 45% of the top 20 recipients of finance industry donations to senators are members of the Banking Committee, which is where the shape of the financial reform legislaton is really determined. The all-time average of top 20 recipients being on the Banking Committee is 30%.

More Republicans — 50% of the top 20 recipients of finance money are Republicans. The lifetime average of Republicans in the top 20 is 40%. Business interests typically give more money to the party that is in power, so this increase in financial money for Republicans is surprising. You can see here that, overall, the Democrats are getting significantly more money than Republicans arcoss the board, so the even split in top finance recipients really is an outlier.

Scott Brown — The typical story of Scott Brown’s election to the Senate in MA is that he was put there to kill health care reform. But all the money he’s getting from the finance industry indicates that they may be hoping he will also be the 41st Republican vote to kill financial regulatory reform, or at least parts of it. If you look at his OpenSecrets profile, all of his top campaign contributors are financial companies.

Blanche Lincoln — She isn’t anywhere on the top 20 all-time list. According to my count, she’s 47th all-time amongst current senators. So why is Sen. Lincoln suddenly the 8th biggest recipient of finance money in the Senate? As I’ve been reporting, Lincoln is taking over over the derivatives reform portion of the financial reform bill. Lincoln heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has partial jurisdiction over the derivatives market because of its histrical roots in the trade of agricultural futures. Recent statements indicate that she plans to go pretty easy and give the industry the exemptions to clearing and reporting requirements that they are lobbying for. By the way, there are a total of 5 Agriculture Committee members on the top 20 for 2010 list.


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