Obama’s Swiss Banker

Head of Swiss finance house UBS Investment Bank is one of president’s biggest bundlers

Wolf and Obama in Martha's Vineyard in 2010 / AP Images
April 24, 2012

One of President Obama’s largest financial backers is a key executive at the largest Swiss bank in the world, complicating his criticism of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Robert Wolf is president of Swiss financial giant UBS Investment Bank and chairman of UBS Americas. He has been one of Obama’s most prolific fundraisers dating back to 2006, when the former Senator from Illinois initiated his run for the White House.

Wolf has bundled more than $500,000 for the president’s reelection, campaign records show. He is but one of many wealthy bankers Obama has turned to in an effort to win a second term.

According to campaign reporter John Heilemann, Obama and Wolf first met in December 2006 in a conference room owned by liberal billionaire George Soros, who is currently embroiled in a domestic dispute with his 31-year-old ex-girlfriend.

It was a match made for the ages, Heilemann argued—the "hope and change" candidate and the sympathetic Wall Street millionaire.

Obama eagerly courted the "A-List New York donor," who would become the future president’s "most copious cash collector in the city by far," raising more than $500,000 for his 2008 campaign.

Wolf’s company, UBS, gave an additional $532,000, making it the 15th largest contributor to Obama’s first presidential run.

"The way Barack has taken this nation with his rock-star status," Wolf told Heilemann in 2007, "it’s very exciting!"

Upon taking office in early 2009, Obama appointed Wolf to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board that would help craft the controversial $787 billion stimulus package.

Shortly after Wolf was appointed, UBS admitted to conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to pay $780 million to ward off a federal investigation into its activities.

Wolf was also one of several major Democratic donors named to the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He remains a close adviser and golfing partner to the president. A recent Wall Street Journal article dubbed Wolf "a ‘fat cat’ with the president’s ear."

In addition to his prolific efforts as a campaign bundler, Wolf has personally contributed almost $200,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2007, including at least $9,100 to Obama and more than $115,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

Last month, Wolf hosted a $35,800-per-plate fundraiser for the president in New York City.

Another Obama bundler, Charles Adams, also has a Swiss address, as Buzzfeed noted earlier this year; he "heads the office of the law firm Akin Gump in the Swiss capital. Adams raised more than $100,000 for Obama, according to the report."

Despite relying so heavily on a Swiss financial institution, the Obama campaign and its Democratic allies have sought to make political hay of Romney’s Swiss bank account, which he closed in 2010.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) suggested that Romney used to keep assets in Switzerland because the former Massachusetts governor believed "the Swiss Franc is a stronger currency than the United States dollar."

"Gov. Romney calls the president out of touch," Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this month. "Hey, how many of y’all have a Swiss bank account?"

Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.) even likened Romney to a foreign despot.

"I think there’s something to be said about people who park their money offshore and we don’t know exactly what is in those accounts," he said on MSNBC. "You know, when we look at despots from foreign countries putting their money in Swiss bank accounts—we always have frowned upon that."

However, there has been little criticism from Democrats and the media establishment of the president’s dealings with Wolf.

That is a marked departure from the 2008 campaign, during which critics pilloried GOP nominee John McCain for employing former Texas Senator and UBS executive Phil Gramm as an adviser.

The campaign’s reliance on wealthy bankers such as UBS’s Wolf could complicate the president’s effort to portray himself as the anti-wealth candidate, characterized by his recent push for the so-called "Buffett Rule" to increase capital gains taxes on millionaires.

The president’s effort to blame the nation’s economic woes on abstract forces such as income inequality and the shady machinations of Wall Street bankers has been undercut by controversial campaign decisions—for example, his reversal on anonymous Super PACs, which he once called "a threat to our democracy"—as well as his increasing reliance on campaign bundlers like Wolf and disgraced Wall Street tycoon Jon Corzine.

Obama, who has aggressively sought out support from the super rich, including a number of high-profile celebrities, has already far outpaced his predecessor George W. Bush with respect to the number of fundraisers attended during his first term.