She’s not in the bankers’ back pockets. No, siree. Hillary Clinton may have received millions of dollars from Wall Street—in both personal income and campaign contributions—but she can ditch those well-heeled friends at a moment’s notice.
To prove it, she has postponed (but not canceled) two fundraisers with Big Finance, one with the huge investing firm BlackRock and the other with an affiliate of Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old outfit. This comes amid Clinton’s unconvincing answers when pressed on her apparent coziness with banks and financial firms. When CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked Clinton recently why she accepted $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for giving a grand total of three speeches, she stammered and finally said, “That’s what they offered,” as if she would have taken 25 bucks and a free sandwich, if that’s all Goldman were able to afford.
Clinton is obviously flummoxed by her relationship with Wall Street, which she needs but can’t fully acknowledge. Her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders keeps hitting pay dirt by trashing the big banks and the outsized amount of wealth they control, which resonates well with a dyspeptic electorate. “The business model of Wall Street is fraud,” he declared during the latest Democratic debate. The whole subject puts Clinton on the defensive, since she’s taken millions in Wall Street donations in her career as Wall Street’s home-state senator and now presidential candidate.
This has become a thornier problem for Clinton than she probably ever anticipated. For one thing, she hasn’t raised all that much money from Wall Street, compared with other candidates. Of $112 million Clinton’s campaign raised in 2015, only about $4 million, or 3.6%, came from donors at financial firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
At the main super PAC backing Clinton, Priorities USA, 35% of the $41 million in donations—about $14 million—has come from the sector known as finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE). But that hardly makes Clinton the baron of Big Money. Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, has hauled in $118 million, with $60 million coming from the FIRE sector. So Clinton is getting dinged for her association with an industry that isn’t helping her all that much.
The dilemma for Clinton is that she actually needs more help from the Wall Street donors she’s now keeping her distance from. That’s because Sanders is raking in cash. He outraised Clinton in January, with $20 million in donations to her $15 million. That is astounding, given the vast reach of a Clinton machine that has been decades in the making. The Clinton campaign even highlighted the funding shortfall in a pitch to supporters: A mass email with the subject line “we fell short by $5 million” warned that, “For the first time this campaign, we're being outraised by our opponent.”
Clinton isn’t running out of cash. Her campaign has raised about $125 million so far, compared with about $95 million for Sanders. She had about $10 million more in the bank at the end of 2015 than Sanders did. And Sanders doesn't have any super PAC money. But he does have the ear of voters, and his momentum is clearly worrisome for the Clinton camp, especially since he holds a commanding lead in New Hampshire, where the primary is to be held February 9.
Clinton will supposedly hold those Wall Street fundraisers she postponed after the New Hampshire primary, as if putting them off by a couple weeks will deflect Sanders’s criticism. Unlikely. He has found a winning line of attack and seems certain to keep it up. Clinton should either take the money and own up to it, or find some other donors.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.