The Finance 202: Wall Street titans who fund GOP won’t say if they plan to cut off contributions

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Just three of them — Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, Elliott Management CEO Paul Singer and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman — together forked over about $118 million to Republican-aligned outfits in the past election cycle, per data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

For context, corporate political action committees combined to direct $205 million to Republican candidates and groups over the same period, per data from the CRP.

It’s one reason the companies’ pledges don’t yet amount to a death knell for Republican fundraising. 

“The big players here are the dark-money donors,” says Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, which advocates for stronger campaign finance laws. “Where are they? And we just don’t know the answer to that.” 

While the dollars get hard to track, because we don’t know how much of what they gave to super PACs and other funds went to specific members, we do know some specifics. Schwarzman — the third-most generous individual donor to the Republicans who backed Trump in trying to overturn the election results — is one of President Trump’s most stalwart defenders on Wall Street and initially defended his challenge to his election loss. 

But the billionaire acknowledged Biden’s win in late November and said he was outraged by the attempted insurrection at the Capitol last Wednesday. “I am shocked and horrified by this mob’s attempt to undermine our Constitution,” he said in a statement to Business Insider last week, urging a peaceful transfer of power. 

Still, Schwarzman has not said he will change his political giving in the wake of the attack. A Blackstone spokesman noted the firm has no political action committee “and has never made corporate contributions to committees. We have been advised by counsel that we cannot direct political giving by individuals.” 

Elliott Management’s Singer contributed more than $12 million to Republicans and affiliated groups in the 2020 elections. A spokesman for the hedge fund declined to comment beyond noting the firm itself doesn’t make political contributions, and employees can donate in their capacity as private citizens. Citadel’s Ken Griffin contributed more than $61 million to GOP candidates and groups. A Griffin representative declined to comment. 

But among major corporations with PACs, the momentum for action continues to build. 

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the government watchdog group Public Citizen, says he has been encouraged by the spontaneity of the movement by top companies to swear off giving, at a minimum. “The CEOs that have announced this did this entirely on their own,” he notes, without pressure from shareholders or grass-roots organizers. “They were so disgusted about how political system has evolved, they don’t want to fund it anymore. So we may see some ramifications in dark money.”

Just in financial services, a number of top firms and trade associations announced Monday they are reevaluating their political giving. 

Among those staking out a more aggressive position by swearing off contributions to the 147 Republican lawmakers who backed overturn the election: American Express and MasterCard. Others are pausing their contributions while they rethink their strategies. They include asset manager BlackRock; U.S. Bank; the American Investment Council, the private equity industry’s trade group; the Managed Funds Association, which lobbies for hedge funds; and the Investment Company Institute, the trade group for asset managers.  

Beyond financial interests, several more of the country’s biggest businesses said they are halting donations to Republicans who lined up against the election results, including: Amazon (whose CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post), Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Dow, Hallmark, Intel, and Verizon, according to a tally compiled by Bloomberg News. 

Some campaign finance experts caution against concluding a fundamental shift is under way in the fundraising system. 

Ken Gross, who heads Skadden’s political law practice, tells me he’s “never seen this much passion in the corporate world.” But he questions how long the moratoriums against giving are going to last. “We’re in the midst of a maelstrom, and there’s a tendency to overstate the reaction in terms of longterm, permanent change.” 

And McGehee points out those companies declining to contribute to specific Republicans could still give to party committees, leadership PACs, super PACs, and other funds that could redirect contributions to those lawmakers. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his deputies already are seeking assurances from “a vast number” of businesses they won’t cut the party off, Politico reports. “Most of the businesses have assured them that they have no plans to back away from the party.” 

Trump himself is enduring more painful fallout, hitting him in the wallet. 

“In the span of four days, [Trump’s] family business has lost its online store, the buzz from Mr. Trump’s promotional tweets about its luxury resorts and bragging rights as host to one of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments,” the New York Times’s Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Steven Eder report

And now Deutsche Bank, “which has been Mr. Trump’s primary lender for two decades, has decided not to do business with Mr. Trump or his company in the future, according to a person familiar with the bank’s thinking. Mr. Trump currently owes Deutsche Bank more than $300 million, which is due in the next few years.”

Another key source of financing, Signature Bank, is taking the same tack. Per the NYT, “The bank — which helped Mr. Trump finance his Florida golf course and where Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, was once a board member — issued a statement calling on Mr. Trump to resign as president ‘in the best interests of our nation and the American people.’”

What’s more, the city of New York announced Monday it is exploring whether to end contracts with Trump to run “a carousel, two ice rinks and a golf course in city parks,” David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell report

“If New York City does revoke Trump’s concessions, that would remove Trump’s name from some of his oldest businesses — and one of his newest,” they write. “Together, the parks concessions brought the Trump Organization about $17 million in revenue, according to Trump’s most recent financial disclosures.”

Market movers

Wall Street slides amid uncertainty at every turn.

Traders see surging cases and partisan battles: “Calls for the impeachment of Trump raised the specter that the Biden administration could be kneecapped from the outset, at a time when the economic recovery is faltering and daily coronavirus infections and deaths are setting records,” Taylor Telford reports.

“The Dow Jones industrial average fell 250 points at the opening bell Monday but recovered some losses throughout the day. By close, the blue-chip index had cut its losses to 89.28 points, or 0.3 percent, to settle at 31,008.69. The S&P 500 edged down 25.07 points, or 0.7 percent, to 3,799.61, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 165.55, or 1.3 percent, to settle at 13,036.43.”

  • The situation is similar overseas: “Britain’s FTSE 100 declined 1.1 percent, and Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.8 percent. The benchmark Stoxx 600 index shed nearly 0.7 percent.”

Bitcoin plunged its most since March: “The cryptocurrency slid as much as 26% over Sunday and Monday in the biggest two-day slide since March. After dropping as much as 20 percent during New York trading hours on Monday, the price continued to fluctuate wildly,” Bloomberg News’s Eric Lam and Olivia Raimonde report.

“Bitcoin has wiped out about $185 billion in value since Friday, more than the market capitalization of 90 percent of individual companies in the S&P 500.”

Wall Street once watched the ticker. We have TikTok: “As trading by individual investors boomed during the pandemic, so has the popularity of online communities where they gather,” the Wall Street Journal’s Caitlin McCabe, Gunjan Banerji and Mischa Frankl-Duval report.

“Platforms including TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook and messaging platform Discord have become the new Wall Street trading desks … These investors do more than just talk, though. They piggyback on each others’ ideas and trades, helping fuel the momentum that has propelled some companies to triple-digit or bigger gains in 2020.”

Coronavirus fallout

PPP is back.

The major small business loan program has re-opened: “The U.S. government was set to re-open its signature small business pandemic aid program with $284 billion in new funds and revamped rules that aim to get cash to the most needy businesses while stamping out fraud and abuse,” Reuters’s Michelle Price and Pete Schroeder report.

“By prioritizing smaller lenders, the SBA hopes to address criticism from lawmakers that minority and women-owned businesses did not get enough money during the first two PPP rounds last year compared with bigger businesses … Among the key changes, companies which took cash during the first two rounds will be allowed a second PPP loan provided they can show a 25 percent” hit to their revenues. To address worries over fraud, the SBA is also introducing new due diligence checks.”

  • Some small businesses got a $1 relief loans: “The average recipient got just over $100,000. And then there were the roughly 300 business that received loans of $99 or less… The tiny sums were equally frustrating for the banks and other lenders that made the government-backed loans. For each, they were paid 5 percent of the value — meaning they collected just pennies on the smallest loans, far less than they cost to make,” the Times’s Stacy Cowley reports.
More from the U.S.:
  • More than 22,577,000 cases have been reported; more than 374,000 have died.
  • Two Democratic lawmakers sheltering with maskless Republicans test positive. Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.) have both tested positive for the coronavirus after spending hours Wednesday holed up in a crowded committee room with other lawmakers, including a number of Republicans who refused to wear masks, Teo Armus reports
  • The fragmented vaccine distribution plan isn’t working: “Vaccine experts say the dispiriting launch reflects more than inflated estimates. The government’s decision to leave 64 states and other jurisdictions to devise individual plans spawned duplicative meetings, emails and telephone calls as local officials strained to share advice about common logistical challenges,” Lena H. Sun, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Frances Stead Sellers, 
    Laurie McGinley, Amy Goldstein, Christopher Rowland and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.
  • Biden received the second dose of the vaccine. Watch it here
  • U.S. tops list of countries losing out on tourism revenue because of the pandemic. A new report shows the decline in tourism spending cost the country $147 billion in lost revenue in the first months of 2020, Erin Cunningham reports.
From the corporate front:
  • Bank profits expected to fall from pre-pandemic levels: “ When the biggest U.S. banks begin reporting fourth-quarter results on Friday some of the headlines could show profits plunged by as much as 40 percent from a year earlier, before the pandemic struck. But investors will be focused on digging out clues to the earnings rebound expected in 2021,” Reuters’s David Henry reports.

Mob attack fallout

FBI warns of armed protests across the country. 

Some states are activating National Guard units: “The FBI warned that armed far-right extremist groups are planning to march on state capitals this weekend, triggering a rush to fortify government buildings amid concerns that the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol last week could spread throughout the country,” Tim Craig, Holly Bailey and Matt Zapotosky report.

“The memo is something of a raw intelligence product, compiling information gathered by the bureau and several other government agencies, an official said. Some of it is unverified, and the threat is likely to differ significantly from place to place, though the memo said there were plans in all 50 state capitals, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bulletin is considered a law enforcement document not authorized for wide public release.”

Twitter, Amazon and Facebook face backlash for taking action against Trump: “Twitter said it purged more than 70,000 accounts affiliated with conspiracy theory QAnon,” Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin report.

“Twitter’s decision to remove Trump’s account, citing the potential that his corrosive rhetoric might incite additional violence, precipitated a sharp drop in the company’s shares, which fell by more than 6 percent Monday … Amazon, meanwhile, faced a new lawsuit from Parler, an alternative social network that had become a haven for Trump’s backers.”

Other news:

  • Up to 15,000 National Guard members could be deployed during the inauguration: “Defense officials have since activated thousands of National Guard members, with 6,000 in the city as of Monday, said Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau. Up to 10,000 are expected to be deployed by Saturday, with the possibility for even more on the streets by the inauguration on Jan. 20, he said,” Dan Lamothe reports.

The transition

Biden’s stimulus plan takes shape.

An impeachment trial could complicate its path: “Biden is set to release his proposals — the price tag for which has yet to be unveiled — on Thursday. The package will feature a range of support for state and local authorities long blocked by Republicans, a bump in direct payments to $2,000 and expanded unemployment benefits, along with funding for vaccine distribution, school re-opening, tax credits, rental relief and aid to small businesses,” Erik Wasson, Laura Davison, and Nancy Cook report.

“Parts of last month’s $900 billion aid bill start running out in mid-March, and may not prove enough to forestall an economic contraction this quarter as the coronavirus continues to surge and wreak record deaths. Failure to win congressional approval by then could wallop equities, which climbed to a record last week amid expectations the Democrats’ coming Senate majority would unleash major new stimulus.”

Biden’s team has looked at how to oust Fannie & Freddie’s regulator: “The Federal Housing Finance Agency is now led by Mark Calabria, a libertarian economist appointed by Trump whose term extends into 2024. The incoming administration has no plans to take action against Calabria any time soon and it’s unclear whether Biden would even have the authority to remove him,” Bloomberg News’s Saleha Mohsin and Joe Light report.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case that could eliminate any ambiguity, though a ruling might take longer than Biden and his aides would want to wait. One candidate the transition team is considering as a potential Calabria replacement is Susan Wachter, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.”

When superpowers collide

Blacklisting Chinese stocks prompts delisting of some derivatives.

The Trump administration wants to deprive Beijing of money to modernize its military: “Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley moved to delist hundreds of derivatives traded in Hong Kong, following a U.S. government ban on American investment in companies considered to be helping China’s military,” the WSJ’s Chong Koh Ping reports.

“Many of the 484 so-called structured products were linked to China’s three largest telecommunications operators, China Mobile Ltd., China Telecom Corp.  and China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. Many others were tied to the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index and its sister Hang Seng China Enterprises index, both of which include China Mobile and China Unicom.”

Trump tracker

Trump’s nonprofit inaugural committee faces another allegation.

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine adds to his ongoing suit: “Trump’s private business failed to pay a $49,000 hotel bill incurred during Trump’s 2017 inaugural — and then, after the bill went to a collections agency, Trump’s nonprofit inaugural committee agreed to pay the charge instead, according to a new filing from Racine,” David A. Fahrenthold reports.

“In this case, Racine has asked a D.C. Superior Court judge to direct that all of this money — the $1 million paid to Trump’s hotel, and the $49,000 used to pay off the Trump Organization’s debts — be given to charity.”

Pocket change

Staples offers to buy Office Depot, again.

It hasn’t been easy: The $2.1 billion deal, $40-per-share offer price for Office Depot’s parent company, ODP Corp., “is a roughly 60 percent premium over its average closing price for the last 90 trading days. The all-cash transaction, according to Staples, is a ‘compelling value proposition’ and is a ‘superior to the intrinsic, standalone value’ of Office Depot,” CNN Jordan Valinsky reports.

“Staples said it’s ‘prepared to take all necessary measures’ to get the merger approved by the Federal Trade Commission, which said in 2015 that the combination would give the combined companies too large a chunk of the office supply retail market and would violate antitrust law. To avoid antitrust scrutiny, Staples proposed selling its IT management company CompuCom or its business-to-business unit.”

Experts predict housing market to remain strong: “They are forecasting increased demand from buyers who delayed purchasing homes because of the pandemic, from existing homeowners who need larger spaces to accommodate parents working from home and children attending school virtually, and from condo owners who are seeking to escape multifamily buildings for single-family houses to mitigate exposure to the virus,” Kathy Orton reports.

“But first-time buyers are likely to face head winds in 2021. Buyers need more money than ever before to buy a home. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median household income of first-time buyers in 2020 was $80,000, up from $68,703 in 2019. The median household income of repeat buyers was $106,700.”

Money on the Hill

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is writing an antitrust book.

The Minnesota Democrat ran for president last year: “The book, ‘Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power From the Gilded Age to the Digital Age,’ is a mix of history, law, personal anecdotes and politics, encompassing such companies as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Amazon and pharmaceutical corporations. It is also a blueprint for how Congress and the incoming Biden administration might adjust the United States’ approach to their regulation,” Elizabeth A. Harris reports.

“While the book is about a variety of industries — it touches on concentrated power in sectors like health care, beer and toothpaste — there is particular anticipation in Washington around the Biden administration’s plans for Silicon Valley, on issues like privacy, misinformation and competition.”

Daybook

  • The Peterson Institute for International Economics holds an event on taxing global capital
  • KB Home and Albertsons are among the notable companies reporting their earnings, per Kiplinger 

Wednesday:

  • The Center for American Progress holds an event on its new policy framework to rebuild America over the next decade
  • The Labor Department reports weekly jobless claims
  • Former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, former OMB director Peter Orszag and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz unveil their budget framework for an uncertain world during a PIIE event
  • Delta Air Lines, BlackRock and Taiwan Semiconductor are among the notable companies reporting their earnings
  • The Census Bureau releases estimates of retail and food sales for December
  • JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are among the notable companies reporting their earnings

The funnies

Bull session

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