WASHINGTON — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is increasingly on the defensive when asked why so many banks and hedge funds on Wall Street have given her money, insisting it doesn't influence her views.
"Anybody who knows me who thinks that they can influence me, name anything they've influenced me on," she told Anderson Cooper during a town hall on CNN Wednesday evening. "Just name one thing. I'm out here every day saying I'm going to shut them down, I'm going after them. I'm going to jail them if they should be jailed. I'm going to break them up. I mean they're not giving me very much money now. I can tell you that much."
Despite the protestations of the former secretary of state, however, Wall Street is continuing to give her money. The securities, insurance, real estate and banking industries rank as some of her top overall donors during the 2016 presidential cycle, giving her more than $6.6 million combined by Jan. 31, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Clinton is the No. 1 recipient of donations from the financial industry among her Democratic and Republican rivals for the White House. But if Clinton claims banks and other financial firms don't get anything for their money, the question remains: why are they giving her so much?
Here are four reasons:
1. She's a favorite to win the presidency
Though Clinton has had a harder race than expected against avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., for the Democratic nomination and she faces a potentially tough Republican opponent like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., she is still considered the odds-on favorite to win.
That gives her a leg up with donors, who above all are pragmatic when it comes to campaign donations. Giving money means they are more likely to — at the very least — have access to them once elected. And backing a winning candidate is a no-brainer.
"Wall Street knows the Clintons," said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "There are prominent Democrats there, and loads of practical people. They go with winners."
2. Her policy positions are moderate
On paper, Clinton's Wall Street reform plan can sound harsh. She's pledged to defend the Dodd-Frank Act at all costs and charge a tax on large institutions that are considered "too big to fail." She also wants to make it easier for regulators to break up the banks.
Yet despite her tough talk about breaking up the banks, Clinton's plan is incremental. The tax she's called for could be considered akin to the capital surcharge the Federal Reserve Board has planned for the largest banks. And the regulators already have the power to break up the big banks—enhancing those authorities doesn't make it any more likely they would actually use them.
Compared with Sanders, who wants to split up the big banks within a year, give post offices the power to offer banking products and cap lending rates for credit cards and consumer loans at 15%, Clinton's plan is moderate.
Moreover, as Sabato noted, Wall Street knows Clinton well. She's a former senator from New York and has experience with economic issues.
"Investors believe that Clinton actually understands how markets work and the importance of banks in growing the economy," said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities. "So they may disagree with her call for specifics rules and regulations, but they are confident that she will be practical in her approach to the economy."
Brian Gardner, director of Washington Research for KBW, agreed there are "a lot of personal relationships between the Clintons and Wall Street so that explains some of the contributions."
Some may also assume that any position she takes in the primaries will not translate to action if she's elected.
"Some Wall Street executives might not fully appreciate the anger much of the public has towards Wall Street and the financial sector and they just assume that the current rhetoric is just campaign talk that will pass after the election," Gardner said. "Some of them thought the same way in 2008 when President Obama was running for office."
3. The GOP field remains divided
One reason donations to Clinton are so lopsided right now is because any money to GOP candidates has been divided up among the multitude of candidates. There are currently eight significant Republican candidates still in the race, a number likely to dwindle fast as the state primaries whittle down the field.
Up until this year, bankers and other financial professionals have been backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who received $4.9 million in donations as of Jan. 31, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But much of that money is expected to shift to Rubio if he continues to perform well in the primaries, as he did on Monday in Iowa. Rubio had received $2.9 million from the banking, securities, real estate and insurance industries as of Jan. 31.
Rubio will receive more financial donations "to the extent that he proves himself to be a viable candidate for the nomination," said Ed Mills, a policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets. "Money follows success."
4. Donation totals are deceptive
Politics is messier than what politicians or the media like to pretend. By pointing out how much money Clinton has received from Wall Street, Sanders can make it look as if the banks themselves are backing her.
But the donation totals mentioned in this story and elsewhere include individual giving by employees — and they are not necessarily guided by banking policy in their donations. In Clinton's case, that is particularly true.
"Who gives money to politicians? People with money. Who has money? People in finance. Where do people in finance live? New York City. Are people in New York liberal or conservative? Mostly liberal," Mills said. "There is a big disconnect between the government relations advocacy function of a large Wall Street investment bank and the individual employees who work for the bank and the way they like to express themselves."