New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan and her nominee to become the state’s top bank regulator received more money from banks than every other state candidate combined in 2014.
Hassan and state Sen. Gerard "Jerry" Little (R.) were the top recipients of financial sector cash at the state level in 2014. Little received $22,550 from the banking industry in his state Senate run and Hassan cashed about $14,500 in checks from bankers, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Hassan and Little accounted for nearly 60 percent of all donations made by bankers that year, with all other candidates in the state combining for about $28,000.
Hassan nominated Little, the former head of the New Hampshire Bankers Association, to serve as commissioner of the state’s bank board in February.
J T Stepleton, a Researcher with the National Institute on Money in State Politics, said that banks have traditionally favored New Hampshire Democrats, but Republicans have caught up during President Obama’s tenure. Between 2006 and 2010, Democrats collected more than $120,000 from the industry compared to about $47,000 for Republicans. In 2014 Republicans edged out the Democrats $39,500 to $25,184 thanks to Little’s massive haul. Hassan accounted for 58 percent of all Democratic contributions that year.
"It’s not a big shocker that an incumbent governor would get that much of a portion of donations from this industry," Stepleton said in a phone interview. "What is shocking is that one individual senator would receive so much. … He is one of their own."
Little won the 2014 race by around 2,500 votes, while dominating the fundraising race. He enjoyed a nearly $40,000 advantage over Democrat Linda Tanner.
"His financial advantage largely rested on those banking contributions," Stepleton said.
Before becoming a Republican state senator in 2015, Little served as a top lobbyist at the New Hampshire Bankers Association for more than two decades. He left the organization in 2011.
The group has a history of supporting Hassan. She received about $4,000 from the group’s political arm, NHBA Bank PAC, between 2006 and 2014, according to the institute.
Hassan, who did not return request for comment, hailed Little’s familiarity with the banking industry when she announced the nomination.
"Senator Little has extensive experience in the banking industry and working in state and local government, and I am confident that his expertise and integrity will help him fulfill the Banking Commissioner’s important responsibilities to protect New Hampshire consumers and support our financial sector," she said in a release.
Hassan’s nomination prompted a public outcry from liberal activists and politicians.
Arnie Arneson, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1990, called the appointment "tone deaf" in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. A MoveOn.org petition demanding that Hassan, the 2016 Democratic Senate nominee, withdraw the nomination garnered more than 700 signatures.
Stepleton said that the contributions do not necessarily disqualify Little from impartially serving as a regulator, but it "raises fair questions" about how close his ties are with the industry.
"We can’t say [the donations] translates to policy, but it raises fair questions," he said. "The fact that so much [banking] money went to one individual certainly raises red flags."
Hassan’s nomination must be approved by the Republican-controlled Executive Council. Little will appear before the five-member board on Friday.
Little did not respond to a request for comment.