Top photo: Rep. Ben Ray Luján speaks as, from left, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steve Israel, and Rep. Donna Edwards listen during a news conference to announce new members of the House Democratic leadership team on Nov. 17, 2014.
Wall Street donors have used their financial relationship with the Democratic Party to complain bitterly about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., influence over the direction of the party, a new fundraising document reveals. At one point, the Democratic lawmaker in charge of raising cash for House Democrats attempted to reassure donors by pointing to a news story claiming that Warren does not speak for the party.
The document, a fundraising summary compiled by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, provides a window into the relationship between the Democrats and major interest group donors. The party held meetings with donors such as Goldman Sachs and General Electric and carefully compiled their concerns, even when they whined about core progressive goals. It’s an awesome example of how money greases the wheels of Washington, D.C.
The notes were compiled on behalf of Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., the chair of the DCCC, providing a summary of his fundraising meetings with various corporate and union donors. The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment.
The nine-page document was found in a cache of files published last week by “Guccifer 2.0,” the anonymous hacker who has been accused by the Department of Homeland Security of having ties to the Russian government.
Goldman Sachs lobbyists Michael Paese and Joyce Brayboy complained to Luján that his party’s “rhetoric is problematic” and that they “don’t like Warren’s messaging,” a reference to populist Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Brayboy was a so-called “superdelegate” and at-large member of the Democratic National Committee. Warren, notably, has pushed her party to take a more aggressive stance on regulating the financial industry and prosecuting Wall Street crimes criminally.
The lobbyists’ access was likely influenced by significant contributions to the DCCC. In the 2014 election cycle, the Goldman Sachs PAC gave the DCCC $30,000; in 2016, it gave $20,000.
Similar concerns were brought to the DCCC by lobbyists for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group that represents Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, Charles Schwab & Co., and other large financial companies. SIFMA lobbyists were “upset around messaging demonizing Wall Street,” the document notes.
Like Goldman Sachs, SIFMA lobbyists complained about Warren’s influence. In response, Luján referenced a news article about House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, declaring that Warren did not speak on behalf of the party — something the financial industry lobbyists saw as “an encouraging sign.” But the lobbyists warned that the attacks on the financial sector were creating “a larger problem when people don’t trust banks and financial institutions.”
The financial services trade group also raised concerns with the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule, which prevents financial advisors from making retirement advice based on kickbacks from retirement funds. A vote earlier this year on legislation to obstruct the rule, proposed by House Republicans and supported by SIFMA, came down on party lines, with all Democrats opposing the effort.
SIFMA was not quite yet ready to give money to the DCCC “in large part due to messaging,” but offered to do “literacy events” with House Democrats. Indeed, campaign disclosures show that SIFMA’s political action committee donated to the committee supporting House Republicans this year, but not the DCCC. In the 2014 election cycle, they gave $30,000 to the DCCC.
General Electric was far more supportive than the banks, offering tips on tactics, campaign technology, and strategy around electing more Southern and pro-business Democrats. But the notes make clear that GE’s donations to the party would be influenced by lawmakers’ votes.
GE, the document notes, “gave $400,000 to House Dems last cycle, but they are facing headwinds this cycle.” Listed under the “headwinds” are an array of GE policy concerns, including the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, and changes regarding the Medicare reimbursement formula. The meeting, notably, was conducted not only with GE lobbyists, but also with Betsy Tower, the manager in charge of the company’s political action committee. GE’s PAC gave the DCCC $30,000 in 2014 and $20,000 this cycle.
The Laborers International Union of North America, the union for construction workers, warned that they were with Republicans supporting a “total repeal” of health reform, and that they were concerned about Democratic hostility towards the Keystone XL pipeline. The union gave $30,000 to the DCCC in 2014 and $15,000 in this election cycle.
Other union meetings were more friendly and supportive of a broader progressive agenda. A briefing with Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry and political director Brandon Davis went over the need to organize communities of color, tying get-out-the-vote efforts to support for increasing the minimum wage, and other strategic imperatives. The SEIU gave $30,000 to the DCCC in the 2014 cycle and $15,000 so far in this cycle.
Lobbyists for the hospital industry similarly offered support, and thanked Democrats for help passing legislation to change Medicare reimbursement rates. The hospital industry also spoke to Luján about contingency efforts around the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell, a case over whether the Affordable Care Act gave appropriate authority to the federal government to set up insurance exchanges and provide subsidies. The discussion suggests the document was authored in the months before June 25, 2015, when the court upheld the exchanges. The American Hospital Association gave $30,000 to the DCCC during the 2014 cycle and during the current one.
In a separate file, whose metadata suggests it was authored by a DCCC fundraising official, instructs Luján to congratulate Rick Pollack, the newly appointed head of the American Hospital Association. The note reminds Luján that he “met with Rick on April 13th when AHA made their $15,000 contribution to the DCCC for the year.”
The DCCC has raised $144 million so far this year, according to recent disclosures. The party committee raises the cash through frequent solicitations to small donors, but also through large donations made by wealthy individuals, lobbyists, and interest group representatives.