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These presidential candidates depend on Wall Street the most

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Ted Cruz may win the Wall Street hypocrisy award.

Among the presidential candidates saying they’ll get tough on big banks and let troubled lenders fail, Sen. Cruz has accepted the largest percentage of money from Wall Street donors—essentially bashing the very people funding his campaign.

With most of the Republican and Democratic candidates lambasting Wall Street and seeking to capitalize on public animosity toward bankers, Yahoo Finance analyzed the percentage of each candidate’s funding that comes from the financial industry. Cruz ranks fourth out of 16 major candidates, with nearly 19% of the funding for his campaign coming from Wall Street donors. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham draw a larger percentage of their money from Wall Street, but none have thrashed the financial industry as robustly as Cruz, who said in the latest Republican debate that if the biggest bank in the country were about to go under, he’d allow it.

Here’s the percentage of funding for each candidate that comes from Wall Street donors:

Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Federal Election Commission

(How we crunched the numbers: We used fundraising data published by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, and included donations from people in three industries: Securities and Investment, Misc. Finance and Commercial Banks. Since CRP determines industry donations based on the employer and occupation listed on each donor record, incomplete records could mean the numbers above are understated. For each candidate, we included donations to the campaign committee, and also to any prominent super PACs supporting the campaign. We added funding from all sources together, then calculated the portion from the three “Wall Street” industries. The numbers include 2015 donations to super PACs through June 30, and to campaigns through Sept. 30.)

Candidates with well-funded super PACs—which operate independent of the regular campaign committee every candidate must have—tend to draw the highest portion of funding from Wall Street. That makes sense, since super PACs, unlike campaign committees, can accept unlimited amounts of money—and financiers have the money to give. Cruz has three super PACs, and virtually all of the $11 million in funding for one of them—called Keep the Promise 1—came from a single source: Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies, a New York hedge fund. Three other individuals—two of them oil-and-gas billionaires, the third a real-estate investor—gave the other two Cruz super PACs an additional $25 million, although we didn’t count that as Wall Street money. Not counting the super PACs, the donors to Cruz’s regular campaign are far more diverse, with only 4.1% of the money coming from donors employed in the financial industry.

Jeb Bush has raised the most cash from Wall Street donors—$35.3 million—largely because he’s raised the most money overall, when both his campaign and his Right to Rise super PAC are included. Bush’s super PAC has outraised his campaign committee by nearly 5-to-1, and more than 90% of Bush’s Wall Street money has gone to the super PAC.

Chris Christie, far behind in the polls, has drawn a larger portion of money from Wall Street than any other candidate—roughly 30% of all donations. That’s probably because his home state of New Jersey is across the river from Manhattan and home to many financiers. Big donors to Christie’s super PAC, America Leads, include banker Ken Langone and hedge-funders Steve Cohen, Bruce Caxton and John Angelo.

Lindsey Graham is an outlier on the list, with 26% of his funding coming from the financial industry, for one basic reason: His super PAC, Security is Strength, has so far gotten about two-thirds of its $2.5 million in funding from a small number of investing firms. But overall, Graham only ranks seventh in the total amount of money drawn from Wall Street donors, and he's a distant 10th in total fundraising.

Hillary Clinton is the obvious Wall Street favorite among the three Democrats in the presidential race, with $6.3 million in financial-industry funding. That amounts to 6.4% of all donations. That might make her an easy target for leftist Democrats Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, who in the latest Democratic debate attacked the close ties Clinton developed with Wall Street while she was a senator from New York. The tactic seems to have worked: Clinton defended herself with a convoluted explanation involving the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which became the most controversial issue spawned by the debate.

Clinton undoubtedly had Wall Street connections while serving as a New York senator from 2001 to 2009, but those ties might not be as strong now as they were then. During her Senate career, Clinton raised about $7.8 million from financial-industry donors, which amounted to 8.6% of all contributions she received. The portion is lower now that Clinton's a presidential candidate. 

Besides, she’s far behind Bush and Cruz in the total amount of Wall Street money raised, while ranking ninth in the portion of her funding that comes from Wall Street. If anything, Clinton may wish she had more Wall Street money, not less. Clinton’s campaign is barely outraising the upstart Sanders, and while Sanders doesn’t have a super PAC, the one supporting Clinton, Priorities USA, is way behind Bush’s super PAC in fundraising, and barely ahead of super PACs supporting Cruz and another Republican, Marco Rubio.

She may not need that kind of firepower now, but she probably will if she’s the Democratic nominee in 2016, facing a GOP challenger who will almost certainly have more money. By then, rich bankers might seem like much better friends than they do now.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.