Democratic senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) has raked in millions of dollars from the financial and banking sectors despite depicting himself as an anti-Wall Street populist.
Brown, who is weighing a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has raised more than $7.3 million from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries since joining Congress in 1998. Of that total, more than $1.8 million came from donors in the security and investment industry—a subsection of Wall Street.
The overwhelming majority of those contributions to Brown—more than $6 million—began pouring in after his election to the U.S. Senate in 2006. As denoted by the Center for Responsive Politics, the donations have only increased in scale since 2015 when Brown became the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
The senator has accepted the donations while simultaneously denouncing Wall Street and "corporate greed." Earlier this year, Brown laid out his views on the industry: "Wall Street’s business model systematically undermines American workers," Brown told an Americans for Financial Reform forum in July. "Corporations and their CEOs focus almost exclusively on their quarterly performance in the stock market…. We need to change how we think about the economy—CEOs don’t drive the economy."
"We need policies that restructure our economy so that workers share in the profits they create, and Wall Street doesn't determine when workers keep their jobs or how much is in their paychecks."
Despite the tough rhetoric, Brown's support from the financial and banking sectors has continued to flow unabated.
During his reelection campaign this year, the senator pulled in more than $5 million from finance, insurance, and real estate interests. A substantial portion of that amount—more than $1 million—was raised from the security and investment industry. Overall, more than $3.3 million of the contributions came from individual donors, while more than $1.7 million came from industry-affiliated PACs.
In 2018, Brown was the second-highest recipient of finance, insurance, and real estate industry contributions, as well as the fifth-largest recipient of campaign donations from security and investment interests.
The senator has also consistently been the top recipient of the savings and loans, mortgage, and venture capital industries.
In 2014, Brown, who was not facing voters, received more money from the savings and loans industry than any other member of Congress, including a number of his Democratic Senate colleagues who were waging tough reelection battles. Brown has continued garnering contributions from donors linked to savings and loans interests even though the industry as a whole began strongly favoring Republicans over Democrats following the 2008 elections. This year, 75 percent of the industry's donations went to Republicans.
Likewise, the mortgage bankers and brokers industry has vigorously kept donating to Brown, even after it transitioned to supporting Republicans. Individuals associated with the industry gave the senator's reelection effort $75,000, significantly more than any other Republican or Democrat this cycle. The senator has accepted money from the industry while simultaneously criticizing mortgage lenders and brokers for their part in causing the housing bubble and the recession.
Brown raked in more than $215,000, greater than any other senator or Senate candidate on the ballot, from the venture capital industry in 2018. The contributions came from donors at firms like Bain Capital ($38,000 from employees), which Brown lambasted in 2012 for "offshoring" jobs. Furthermore, even while Brown was lobbing attacks at venture capital firms, he was one of the industry's top 20 recipients of campaign donations that year.
Campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission indicate that individuals employed by high-profile corporations like Bain Capital were not alone in backing Brown. In fact, as the reports note, the senator's donors come from some of the most prominent institutions in corporate America—Goldman Sachs, New York Life Insurance, Comcast Corp, Nationwide, Procter & Gamble, and Prudential Financial, among others.
The senator has also received major backing from lawyers and law firms that represent Wall Street. Individuals employed by Baker & Hostetler, one of the nation's largest law firms specializing in high-stakes litigation and financial services, contributed more than $155,000 to Brown's 2018 reelection campaign, enough to put them in his top 10 donor list.
Over the course of his career, donors with ties to the legal industry have continuously ranked as Brown's top contributors, giving nearly $7 million to date.
Ironically, Brown has consistently included Wall Street's pervasive bankrolling of elected officials in his broader critiques of the industry. This was on display in a recent interview with CNBC's John Harwood where Brown discussed his frustration with colleagues over their willingness to support banking deregulation efforts.
"Well, what's rotten on Wall Street is the influence the financial services industry continues to exert on Congress. Whenever they want something, they almost always get it. There's this collective amnesia that's set in on Congress," the senator said. "They forgot that it was Wall Street greed and overreach that cost hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement savings, cost millions of jobs, caused millions of foreclosures."
"And now, Wall Street comes knocking again," Brown added.