Hillary Clinton claimed over the weekend that Wall Street firms have supported her financially because she was a U.S. senator on Sept. 11, 2001, but campaign finance records show seven-figure support from the industry before the attacks.
According to OpenSecrets.org, securities and financial industry companies and their employees donated nearly $1.15 million to Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign. The Wall Street giant Citigroup topped the list of her corporate donors that cycle.
The numbers provide a contrast to Clinton’s explanation for Wall Street’s extensive financial support for her campaign, which she said was due to her work after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival in the race for the Democratic nomination, criticized Clinton’s reliance on Wall Street campaign cash during Saturday’s presidential debate. She called the criticism an effort to "impugn my integrity."
"I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is," Clinton said.
"I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country."
Her answer immediately drew criticism. "Have never seen a candidate invoke 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street donations. Until now," wrote Andy Grewal, a professor of law at the University of Iowa, of Clinton’s comments.
Clinton’s Wall Street supporters, who include some of her most deep-pocketed backers, say their support has nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11.
As campaign finance data shows, that support predates the attacks. In addition to Citigroup employees, bankers from Goldman Sachs, UBS, Bear Stearns, and Credit Suisse provided significant financial backing for Clinton’s 2000 Senate run.
Many of those banks were also large supporters of her Republican opponent in that race. But Clinton was among the top recipients of any candidate that cycle of donations from hedge funds, private equity firms, and commercial banks, according to OpenSecrets.
"Most people in New York on the finance side view her as being very pragmatic," one Wall Street financier told Politico last year. "I think they have confidence that she understands how things work and that she’s not a populist."
Though a reliable source of financial support, Clinton’s Wall Street backing has become a liability as she faces off against the stridently populist Sanders, who frequently singles out large banks as pernicious political and financial actors.