Wall Street donors seek to block Warren VP pick
If Clinton chooses the Massachusetts senator as her running mate, donations will dry up, fundraisers warn.
NEW YORK — Big Wall Street donors have a message for Hillary Clinton: Keep Elizabeth Warren off the ticket or risk losing millions of dollars in contributions.
In a dozen interviews, major Democratic donors in the financial services industry said they saw little chance that Clinton would pick the liberal firebrand as her vice presidential nominee. These donors despise Warren's attacks on the financial industry. But they also think her selection would be damaging to the economy. And they warned that if Clinton surprises them and taps Warren, big donations from the industry could vanish.
"If Clinton picked Warren, her whole base on Wall Street would leave her," said one top Democratic donor who has helped raise millions for Clinton. "They would literally just say, 'We have no qualms with you moving left, we understand all the things you've had to do because of Bernie Sanders, but if you are going there with Warren, we just can't trust you, you've killed it.'"
Most big donors don't want Warren on the ticket because she is the most accomplished anti-Wall Street populist in the Democratic Party. But many also think her presence would drive a potential Clinton administration too far to the left, poison relations with the private sector from the start and ultimately be damaging to the economy.
A constant theme that emerged in the interviews is that executives in the financial industry believe the first 100 days of a Clinton administration could feature potential deal making with Republicans, who are likely to maintain their majority in the House of Representatives.
The dream deal for Wall Street would be a combination of targeted infrastructure spending that appeals mostly to Democrats and corporate and international tax reform that could bring Republicans along. The fear is that Warren would make such a deal more difficult.
"Clinton is going to face a divided government unless there is a total tsunami," said one moderate Washington Democrat with close ties to the banking industry. "What you want in a vice president is someone who can negotiate for you on the Hill, someone like Joe Biden. And that is not a Warren strength."
All of the donors and senior Democrats interviewed for this story demanded that their names not be used both because they were not authorized to speak about the Clinton campaign's internal deliberations and because they feared Warren's wrath. "There is no upside to my talking to you on the record," one big donor said. "Either I piss off the Clinton campaign or I piss off Warren, or both."
Several donors said they did not really fear Warren going on the ticket because they do not believe Clinton has a strong relationship with the senator and would not trust Warren to be a loyal No. 2, either on the campaign or in the White House.
"First of all, they don't particularly like each other," said one prominent hedge fund manager who has raised millions for Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton before her. But, the manager added, "The absolute predicate for a vice presidential nominee is they have to understand they are No. 2 both during the campaign and once you take office, and I just don't think Elizabeth Warren is that type of person."
The distaste for Warren in the banking industry is not surprising. No American politician in recent history has done more to harness the powerful anti-Wall Street sentiment that continues to rage in the country since the financial crisis of 2008.
Warren created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that many bankers dislike, and she continues to push for far stronger regulations including breaking up the nation's largest financial institutions into smaller, simpler pieces. This is exactly the reason that many on the left, including ardent backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, want to see Warren on the ticket.
"It's very clear that Wall Street guys don't like her because she has been a lot more effective than most in communicating an anti-Wall Street message that has been part of the Democratic Party for 80 years, since the 1930s," said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian at Manhattan College. "It's not so much that Wall Street doesn't like her personally, most of them don't even know her, but they don't like anyone that espouses that particular ideology."
A Clinton campaign spokesman declined to comment for this story. A representative of Warren did not respond to requests for comment.
Clinton earlier this month said she thinks Warren is "qualified" to be vice president. "I have the highest regard for Sen. Warren," she said in an interview with Politico. "I think she is an incredible public servant, eminently qualified for any role. I look forward to working with her on behalf of not only the campaign and her very effective critique of [Donald] Trump, but also on the issues that she and I both care about."
Warren has maintained the typical stance of potential vice presidents, saying she is perfectly happy in her current job. But she has some powerful backers pushing Clinton to pick her for the vice-presidential slot, including outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
People close to the Clinton campaign say that while Warren might not wind up as the vice-presidential selection, Wall Street executives are dead wrong to think that it couldn't happen.
They say Warren is very high on the list of possible vice presidential candidates along with Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey; Labor Secretary Tom Perez; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, among others. "We are not at the point of ruling anyone in or out," a person close to the process said.
Picking Warren would be risky for Clinton's fundraising operation. The presumptive Democratic nominee hopes to raise $1.5 billion for her campaign against Trump, and Wall Street has been a big source of funding for her over the years.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton and outside groups supporting her have raised $289 million so far in the 2016 cycle. The securities and investment industry is easily Clinton's top source of cash, donating over $28 million so far, according to the CRP.
"Things are so volatile now with all of the outside groups that all it can take is pissing off one billionaire on Wall Street to make it difficult," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the CRP. "And you don't run national campaigns for as many years as Clinton has without some serious support from Wall Street, they are just too much of a heavy hitter."
The progressive case for Warren holds that she would immediately energize the liberal base and bring Sanders voters into the fold. And Warren backers note that the senator has been an early and enthusiastic basher of Trump and shown a knack for getting under the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's skin.
"Elizabeth Warren very effectively called out Donald Trump for cheering the Wall Street collapse because it would make him money — and that moment reminded Democrats how powerful Warren's megaphone can be," said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "Whether it's as vice president or as co-chair of the presidential transition committee, it's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton not wanting a very large role for Elizabeth Warren at the table."
But more moderate Democrats in the financial services industry argue that Sanders voters will come on board anyway and that Clinton does not need to pick Warren to help her win.
"We are going to win this. Trump shouldn't be president and he isn't going to be president," said one senior executive at a Wall Street bank who is close to Clinton. "Picking Warren would indicate weakness and panic for no reason and make them look like they are running scared of Trump. There will be plenty of time to galvanize the left and get them to come out. And Warren would be a nightmare to try and manage."
Another argument against putting Warren on the ticket is that she can be just as effective a surrogate while maintaining her power base in the Senate.
"In the current era of presidential politics, social media has allowed more people to assume the role of attack dog that was traditionally left to the vice-presidential nominee," said Jason Rosenstock, an analyst at Thorn Run Partners who covers the financial industry. "Warren has shown an excellence in the platform that would allow her to help the campaign incredibly while maintaining her growing position of power in the Senate."
On the economic front, some moderate Democrats and financial executives worry that having Warren as vice president would poison relationships between business and the White House from the beginning of a potential Hillary Clinton administration.
These people say there is an opportunity for much better relations between business and the White House than during President Barack Obama's tenure, as well as more effective deal making with Congress to avoid the kind of fiscal crises that damaged the economy the past six years. In addition to cutting deals on taxes and infrastructure, Wall Street worries about the return of the debt ceiling as a potentially big issue in 2016, as well as the return of sequester spending cuts.
"There is going to be a lot to deal with in the first 100 days, and I'm not sure going left and picking Warren would be particularly helpful," said a top financial services lobbyist in Washington.
This Democrat, along with several Wall Street donors mentioned Kaine as the ideal vice-presidential pick. The Virginia Democrat comes from a key swing state, is fluent in Spanish, sits on the Armed Services Committee and is generally palatable to both progressives and more business-friendly Democrats.
"He checks every box," the moderate Washington Democrat with close ties to the banking industry said. "You could see him step in as president, he is credible with the base of the party, and he's also comfortable spending time with the rich people you need to raise money from."