Last night, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates had their last debate before the Iowa caucuses. While the candidates touched on topics ranging from Iran, to healthcare and gun control, money and politics was the major focus of the debate. Specifically, a charge was leveled by Senator Bernie Sanders that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have difficulty taking on the power of Wall Street as president because she personally received over $600,000 dollars from Goldman Sachs in speaking fees and had, over the years, raised millions of dollars from Goldman and other Wall Street banks for political campaigns.
According to tax records released by the Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton personally received $675,000 from Goldman Sachs in 2013 for three speeches [PDF]. Goldman reportedly paid Clinton $225,000 per speech, which included taking some questions from executives.
During one speaking engagement before Goldman Sachs in 2013, Hillary Clinton reportedly told Goldman executives at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan that she believed in Wall Street and thought increased criticism of bankers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis was wrong. According to Politico, “Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish.”
In all, The Intercept calculates that Hillary Clinton personally received about $2.9 million from Wall Street speaking fees, which included other big names from the 2008 financial crisis, such as Morgan Stanley and Bank of America.
The private payments parallel the campaign contributions Hillary Clinton received as an elected official. According to public records available at Opensecrets.org, Clinton’s two largest campaign donors while she was a US Senator were Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley are listed among her top five contributors.
Senator Sanders’ charge at last night’s debate was nothing new for Clinton. Clinton has been facing questions over her connections to Wall Street for years and has offered a number of often problematic responses. In a previous debate, Clinton explained that her connections to Wall Street were due to her support for rebuilding Manhattan after 9/11 – a claim many found offensive.
Prior to that, Clinton had responded to accusations about her closeness to Wall Street by saying she had, before the crisis in 2007, went to Wall Street banks and told them to “cut it out.” But a video recording of the event Clinton referenced, published by ProPublica, presents a different picture, where “Clinton gave a shout-out to her ‘wonderful donors’ in the audience, and asked the bankers to voluntarily suspend foreclosures and freeze interest rates on adjustable subprime mortgages. She praised Wall Street for its role in creating the nation’s wealth, then added that ‘too many American families are not sharing’ in that prosperity.”
While many supporters of former Secretary Clinton may claim that Clinton’s ties to Wall Street do not influence her positions, the record is less clear. In 2001,then-Senator Hillary Clinton supported a controversial bankruptcy bill favored by Wall Street that made it more difficult for struggling people to discharge credit card debt. And, perhaps most importantly, Clinton still does not support reinstating Glass-Steagall to protect commercial banks from the risks associated with investment banks.
Glass-Steagall was ended by President Bill Clinton, partly to legalize a merger between Citibank and Travelers Group into Citigroup. Even one of the prime beneficiaries of that merger, former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weil, admits that Glass-Steagall should be reimposed. Hillary Clinton does not, and instead falsely claims, that both the financial crisis and current dangers are due to so-called “shadow banking,” not her donor’s institutions.
With Clinton and Sanders essentially tied in national polling, and Sanders on the upswing in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton may have to rethink her Wall Street positions if she wants to attract enough Democratic primary voters to prevail in her second inevitable presidential campaign.