Hillary Clinton's multiple recent events on Wall Street have helped whip the financial sector into a lather, according to Politico, because the industry thinks it's a sign they may get an ally back in the White House. It's actually a sign that Hillary wants their money.
Among its investments with the highest return, Wall Street apparently spends a lot on public relations. In the past month, Politico has run several items on what financiers are thinking as 2016 looms (only 1,000 days away!). In mid-November, it was about how Wall Street is excited about Jeb Bush. The day prior, it was Clinton. "[P]rivately they yearn for Clinton to get the nomination much in the way many Republican financiers want to see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — or someone like him — lock down the GOP nomination," Politico's Ben White and Maggie Haberman wrote then.
On Thursday, White and Haberman report this: "'Wall Street folks are so happy about [having Clinton run] that they won’t care what she says,' says one well-placed Democrat." And also: Clinton "has been shrewdly tending to would-be donors for much of the last year," with a speech at Goldman Sachs and a sit-down with the Carlyle Group, as well as "glad-handing as she helps to raise $250 million for her family’s foundation."
What's remarkable about the article isn't that it's revisiting well-trod ground. It's how obviously disconnected the ideas of fundraising and influencing governing actually are. Wall Street hopes to anoint victors who then pay fealty for four years, but right under the surface of this article is how divergent that view is from reality. Clinton is an old enough hand at politics to know this, but it does her no good to point it out, as it similarly does no candidate for office any good to.
So we will. At right, you can see the donations to political campaigns from the securities and investment industry over time, via Open Secrets. In 2008, they gave far more to Obama than McCain; but, then, so did the rest of America. In 2012, incensed in part at the fact that they didn't get the "significant administration jobs" they sought, they gave far, far more to former financier Mitt Romney. Obama won by about the same amount in both elections.
But Wall Street expected that Obama would follow their whims. Take these sentences from Politico, with emphasis added.
When financial markets crashed just prior to his election, Obama’s cadre of Wall Street supporters expected their donations had earned for them a measure of understanding from the White House. And in keeping with the practice of both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush years, the finance executives also felt entitled to at least a couple of significant administration jobs going to one of their own—not to mention fairly regular access to the president, either via White House visits or get-togethers in New York.
There's no evidence that Wall Street did much of anything for Barack Obama politically, but they expected symbols of support, felt entitled to them. (Remember the New Yorker report about how donors were mad they couldn't get a picture with the president?)
Obama didn't give them those symbols, but he did plenty for Wall Street. He took a political hit in managing the implementation of the industry bailouts that most Americans consider a generous reward for the bad behavior that got us into the recession. Wall Street also wanted head-pats. "I knew right at that moment, standing in [Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel]’s office, that they did not really have any interest in understanding Wall Street or working with us in any significant way," one anonymous executive told Politico. In other words, he showed insufficient fealty to the Wall Street types that didn't hand him the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania.
Clinton is better at the game. Her husband appointed a Wall Streeter to act as liaison with the industry, and — thanks to a number of factors — oversaw a run-up in stock prices that made Wall Street an awful lot of money. In part, that's because Bill Clinton was a legitimately more moderate Democrat than Obama on the economy. But part of it was optics. "If the banking class is delighted with Clinton lately," White and Haberman write, "the feeling appears mutual." (That "appears" does more work than the authors may realize.) They describe the sit-down with Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein.
Clinton easily regaled the well-heeled crowd with stories from her past before Rubenstein ended their half-hour chat with a joke about her future: Would she be interested in joining a private equity firm?
“Is that an offer?” Clinton asked, laughing as the audience knowingly joined in.
The funny thing about this isn't the implication that Clinton might accept a job from Carlyle. It's that she, winking, suggests that they can play a significant role in any job she might seek. Wall Street are money-makers, not king-makers. Even when the Street is trying to make a buck, it can spectacularly fall on its face. It knows far less about making a president.