The midterm elections next month are on track to be one of the most expensive contests to date, and the financial services industry remains one of the top political donors.
With control of the Senate up for grabs and Republicans hoping to make further gains in the GOP-dominated House, bankers have a lot at stake in the race. Some even hope that a GOP-controlled Congress could help roll back parts of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Both parties continue to ramp up their efforts and campaign spending in key congressional races across the country, with less than three weeks to go before Election Day. Below we offer a cheat sheet on the banking sector's contributions this election cycle, including which people bankers are giving to and why.
How much has been donated?
Total spending on the midterms could reach nearly $4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with over $2 billion already contributed to campaigns, committees and outside groups like superPACs. Spending by political nonprofits that do not have to detail their donors so-called dark money has already likely topped $100 million and could double by the time the elections are over.
"Everything is on track for this to be the most expensive midterm in history," said Russ Choma, money-in-politics reporter at the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets.org.
The focus remains mainly on the Senate, including several key races in states like Georgia, Louisiana, Colorado and Kansas, that will determine party control of the chamber. Media reports point to a surge in spending by both Democrats and Republicans heading into the elections, particularly among GOP-aligned groups.
Employees and corporate PACs associated with financial services companies a broad category that includes hedge funds, real estate interests and insurance firms have already given more than $333 million to various campaigns and outside groups this election season, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group has so far reported data from the Federal Election Commission through Sept. 24, 2014, with final tallies not likely to be available until well after Nov. 4.
Where is all that money going?
The majority of the contributions roughly three-quarters was given to either the parties or specific candidates, while the remainder was sent to outside groups.
But types of giving are mixed across different industry segments.
Representatives from commercial banks, for example, gave $21.1 million so far this cycle, but very little, about half a million dollars, to outside groups for political activities. Private-equity companies and hedge funds, however, donated almost one-third of their $126 million in contributions to outside groups, including superPACs and related organizations that can raise unlimited funds from individuals and firms. The securities and investment industry is one of the top givers to outside groups this election cycle, and most of that money came from wealthy individual donors affiliated with the companies.
"You're not seeing individuals at Wells [Fargo] or Citi writing huge checks" to these outside groups, Choma said. "The big banks have customers, investors and well-known names, and they have the attention of regulators and Congress."
How is the money being split along partisan lines?
There's been a concerted move to the right by the banking industry since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. The industry already tilted slightly Republican for years, but there's been a more distinctive shift over the past two election cycles.
Employees and PACs representing the financial sector have given 62% to Republicans and just 38% to Democrats so far this term, and the split for commercial banks is even more apparent, with 70% of their money going to the GOP.
The change comes during a difficult political climate for the industry overall, following the financial crisis.
"The balance of power has shifted, where the financial services industry finds itself much more on the defensive over the last five years than on the offensive and promoting its agenda," said Edward Mills, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.
Some financial institution executives are practical about the political difficulties of changing Dodd-Frank, especially considering that no matter the outcome of the election, President Obama will keep his veto powers for the next two years. But they argue that a Republican Senate could make progress on broader business issues like tax reform, along with potentially easing some of the most contentious parts of the financial reform law.
"For a lot of folks, it's less about financial regulation and more about what the broader policy landscape looks like under a Republican and Democratic Senate," said one executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There's a better likelihood of big pieces of structural reform getting done if you have a Republican Congress and a Democratic White House. The president has far more room to do a big deal."
Still, the executive cautioned that the effort is not entirely based on broad red and blue strokes, and that select Democrats are still winning support.
"It's far more targeted a studious look at the candidate and where he or she may stand on financial services issues," the executive said, who lamented that the number of allies on either side of the aisle has diminished. "No one is a banking champion right now there are just some that are not openly hostile."
Which candidates are benefiting?
Support for specific candidates also breaks down across party lines: just six of the top 20 candidates receiving money from the financial industry are Democrats.
But that includes the top recipient, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has taken heat from progressives for his Wall Street relationships. Booker won a special election last October to fill the seat of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died that summer, and he is now running for a full six-year term. In doing so he has raised $3.7 million from the financial industry.
Republican leaders in the Senate and House have also received strong support, including Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, minority leader and minority whip, respectively, and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaker of the House. Analysts said that it's common for there to be strong financial support for leadership, particularly this year as the parties duke it out for control of the Senate.
"The leader of the Senate has tremendous sway in setting the floor schedule, and I don't think that the industry has had a good relationship with Harry Reid. So while there are probably things that Republicans would do that the industry would not support, they probably think they'd have a better relationship if it's Mitch McConnell rather than Reid," said Brian Gardner, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
McConnell, in particular, remains in a fairly tight race against Alison Grimes, a Democrat, though he continues to edge her out in the polls.
Two Senate Banking Committee members, both Democrats who are in competitive races, have also received significant industry support Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. Warner has raised $2.1 million from the industry and Hagan $906,000.
"The industry has enjoyed good relations with both they've served as go-betweens between the banking industry and more liberal members of the committee along with the chairmen," Gardner added.
Still, the financial services sector appears to be hedging its bets in at least some close contests. Warner's opponent, Ed Gillespie, has raised more than $700,000 from bankers, and Hagan's challenger, Thom Tillis, has received $854,000 in donations from the industry. Grimes has raised more than $543,000 from the financial sector.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, raked in the most money from representatives for commercial banks: he has raised more than $287,000 from them, along with $1.4 million from the financial industry overall.
Are bankers backing any other races?
Friends of Traditional Banking, a superPAC-like group launched ahead of the 2012 elections, has selected two key races that it's asking bankers to contribute to directly: GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, and Jodi Ernst, a Republican state senator who is challenging Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley for the open seat in Iowa.
Howard Headlee, president and chief executive of the Utah Bankers Association, estimates that more than 1,000 bankers will have made donations to the two candidates through the group by Election Day, with total contributions estimated at more than $200,000.
"Regardless of how long we've been working at this, bankers are just like everybody else and are just starting to pay attention," he said. "We've seen a huge influx coming to our website just in the last five days."
Headlee added that the decision to focus on the races in Colorado and Iowa came down to a number of factors both Gardner and Ernst have been supportive of banking policies, while their opponents have often allied with credit unions.
"These were the two clearest cases where you had people who had established themselves as friends running against people who openly and blatantly had a record as enemies of traditional banking," he said.
Both races are considered tossups, and will help to determine control of the Senate next year.
Headlee emphasized that his group is nonpartisan, but he said that under the current circumstances it supports a change in party control, because bankers have grown frustrated under Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Senate Democrats have failed to schedule votes on several bipartisan banking measures that passed the House by wide margins.
"Regardless of who gets elected, if leadership won't let bills come to the floor, we can't fix anything. And we need to get things fixed in the next two years," Headlee said. "We have confidence that if Republicans take control of Senate these bipartisan reforms could come forward."
The group is encouraging additional support for several other GOP candidates in key Senate races: Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Pat Roberts in Kansas.
What about Brown and Shelby?
Neither of the top contenders to take over the Senate Banking Committee next year Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Richard Shelby, R-Ala. is up for re-election in November, but both lawmakers saw some contributions from the financial industry this election cycle.
"There are two reasons to fund-raise elections and when you're vying for position on a committee or within the leadership of the caucus," Choma said. "You're going to be seeing people donating money to them before they take the gavel."
Brown received more than $330,000 from the financial industry this term, with more than one-third of that coming from the insurance industry, while Shelby, who is known for his large campaign war chest, took in roughly $83,000.
It's likely that both lawmakers will begin ramping up re-election campaigns fairly soon, assuming they decide to run for another term. Shelby is up for re-election in 2016 and Brown in 2018.
"A senator has six years to get a campaign finance operation up and running, so both of them are already moving into the phase where they're getting serious again," Choma said. "It's never too early to start."