Missing from the Political Conventions: Bank Lobbyists

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PHILADELPHIA — On its face, the Democratic National Convention would appear to offer Wells Fargo an unprecedented opportunity to showcase itself as speakers this week, including the president, vice president, and Bill and Hillary Clinton will all give speeches in an arena named after the bank.

Yet aside from giving its name to the arena where the convention takes place, Wells Fargo won't have an official presence in Philadelphia. The same can be said for most of the rest of the big banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, PNC and the banking trade groups, all of which are keeping a low profile compared with previous conventions.

It is hardly an anti-Democrat stance. In Cleveland last week, bankers were few and far between, aside from a handful of individuals who took leave to attend.

When pressed as to why the industry is staying away, bankers said that both parties have espoused anti-bank positions, and it was simpler to stay home.

"Given the hyper partisan atmosphere in today's politics, we did not want to risk getting typed as being for or against one or another party or position," said Camden Fine, president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America. "This is the first time since I came to ICBA in 2003 that ICBA has not sponsored events and sent several people to the conventions."

The American Bankers Association and the Consumer Bankers Association were absent from both conventions. The Financial Services Roundtable sponsored a few events in Cleveland and Philadelphia but is "not hosting anything major ourselves," a spokesperson said.

Citi chose to keep a low profile at both conventions while Goldman Sachs stayed on the sidelines completely. JPMorgan didn't contribute to either host committee but did send a handful of employees to support philanthropic projects, which included $150,000 in both Cleveland and Philadelphia to support youth employment programs.

"JPMorgan Chase decided that the best way to support these conventions was to support the cities themselves where the events will take place," Nate Gatten, global head of government relations at JPMorgan, wrote in a recent blog post.

PNC limited its participation to providing "some" funding to the host committees in Cleveland and Philadelphia but did not participate in either convention.

The Credit Union National Association left behind a project with a horticulture therapy suite at a children's hospital in Cleveland and is sponsoring a similar project in Philadelphia.

Amalgamated Bank, which is union-owned and bills itself as a "progressive bank," may be the sole exception for the industry, sponsoring a suite at the Well Fargo Center.

"As the nation's leading progressive bank we are proud and honored to support Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president and to stand in strong support of, and in solidarity with, those at the DNC," said Keith Mestrich, president and CEO of Amalgamated.

Cleveland would have seemed to be a natural fit for banks as Republicans tend to be more in favor of easing bank regulation. Four years ago, banks clearly favored the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

But Donald Trump, the 2016 GOP presidential nominee, has run on an anti-trade platform that banks oppose. He also surprised the financial services industry on day one of the Republican convention when his top aide announced that he would support the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has personally opposed the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, but a call for a modern version of the Depression-era law was added to the Democratic platform as part of a compromise with progressive supporters of former rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.

This isn't to say that no bankers will attend in Philadelphia. Politico noted that many executives — mostly from investment banks and hedge funds, not commercial banks — are attending the Democratic convention. But it's still a far cry from 2004 and 2008, when many trade groups, bankers and credit union leaders made a point to appear.

Some said recent ethics rules for lawmakers are helping to keep industry representatives away.

Sponsoring events and determining what is allowed and what is not regarding expenditures for food and entertainment "are also very complex and just not worth wading through," the ICBA's Fine said. 

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