(NEW YORK) Forget the Democratic and Republican primaries: The two biggest names in the 2016 presidential race are competing directly against each other in an elite forum, the halls of Goldman Sachs.
Jeb Bush will be back in New York raising money next week with his sights set on Goldman, the wealthiest and most successful bank in Wall Street history. He has a pair of events scheduled for next Wednesday with current and former Goldman executives, sources familiar with Bush’s plans said.
The events signal that Bush hopes to go head to head for Goldman money and support with Hillary Clinton, who also has strong ties to the bank and is expected to raise large sums from its executives to help fund her likely presidential campaign. And it means employees of the nation’s richest investment bank are increasingly putting their money on the two best-known candidates, both of whom are viewed across Wall Street as centrists who could cool some of the scorching anti-banker rhetoric and policies emanating from the Elizabeth Warren wing on the left and the tea party movement on the right.
“Goldman likes to play both sides of the fence and that’s especially true of a race like this where either of these two candidates — Bush and Clinton — could ultimately be helpful to them,” said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian at Manhattan College.
In addition to at least achieving parity with Clinton in the Wall Street money race, Bush is looking to muscle out other GOP candidates for financial services industry cash, especially New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. So far, Bush has succeeded in this effort on his way to what supporters hope will be a war chest as large as $100 million by the end of the first quarter for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committees. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker draws significant interest from Wall Street. But the other potential GOP candidates including Senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, whose wife works at Goldman, have drawn much less support.
Analysts say Goldman is hoping that either Clinton or Bush could help restore the reputation of an industry badly tattered by the financial crisis while pushing back against big tax hikes on capital gains and more stringent regulation of the financial industry. Both candidates are also viewed as defenders of the Federal Reserve, which has come under heavy criticism from both the far left and far right.
“The key for Goldman is to have its bets hedged both in its businesses and in politics,” said William Cohan, a journalist and former banker who wrote a history of Goldman. “And you can’t get any better for them than Jeb and Hillary, it’s a dream come true, they would win either way.”
Bush’s first Goldman event next Wednesday will take place at the Ritz Carlton and is being organized by Dina Powell, who heads the Goldman Sachs Foundation and served in the White House under George W. Bush. Other organizers include John Waldron, co-head of investment banking, Alison Mass, a senior investment banker, and Faryar Shirzad, a Goldman executive in Washington who also served in the George W. Bush administration.
The $5,000 per head event is expected to include younger Goldman executives. The bank has a rule that executives are not allowed to solicit political donations from anyone junior to them. So the invitation for the affair includes a couple of mid- to lower-level bankers who can hit up their bosses for checks for Bush’s political action committees.
The former Florida governor will rake in much larger checks of $50,000 per head later in the evening at a more exclusive affair organized by Jim Donovan, a senior Goldman executive who was a key fundraiser and adviser for Mitt Romney and is now playing the same role for Bush. It will also feature John Thain, a former Goldman president who went on to serve as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange and now heads middle-market lender CIT. Other organizers include Scott Kapnick, a former co-head of investment banking at Goldman who is now chief executive of Highbridge Capital along with Ed Forst, a former co-head of Goldman’s investment management division and now president and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield. Muneer Satter, a former Goldman executive who was a co-chair of Romney’s finance committee in 2012, is another organizer.
A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined comment. Spokespeople for both Bush and Clinton did not return emails for comment.
The battle for the hearts and wallets of Goldman Sachs titans goes right to the top. Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein is close to Clinton and has held fundraisers for her. The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state gave a well-paid speech to Goldman executives in 2013. She and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have both raised huge sums from Goldman and all across Wall Street for their campaigns and charitable foundation. But Blankfein has also made warm comments about some in the Republican field including Bush. Blankfein has indicated he would be fine with either a Bush or Clinton presidency.
Goldman employees, along with the rest of Wall Street, steered much of their cash to then-Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential cycle, helping him raise $16 million. But they abandoned Obama for favorite son Mitt Romney in 2012. Clinton is expected to draw Wall Street cash back to the Democratic Party in 2016. And Bush is moving early to make sure the former first lady does not establish any kind of dominance in the financial sector.
Executives at Goldman and other Wall Street banks are even more vital in 2016 because they can write giant checks to so-called super PACs backing individual candidates. And as long as Bush is not an announced candidate he can personally attend super PAC events like the one hosted by Kapnick. Once Bush is officially in the race, he will no longer be able to coordinate with his super PAC.
Campaign finance experts say Goldman is hoping another President Bush or President Clinton would both push for Wall Street-friendly policies and draw on Goldman’s executive ranks for expertise, a practice that has fallen out of favor in the years following the financial crisis.
“Goldman is a behemoth that invests in everything and advises every industry and what it wants is literally everything,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “It’s concerned about tax reform, Dodd-Frank implementation, energy and nuclear power and everything else. It will be interesting to see who wins this Goldman Sachs sweepstakes because it is such an influential player.”