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Battered Wall Street gives to Obama, McCain

Some of John McCain's and Barack Obama's biggest fundraisers are executives from the stricken financial services industry, which will need all the help it can get from whoever wins the White House.
APTOPIX Obama 2008
Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters after a rally in Elko, Nev. on Wednesday.Chris Carlson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some of John McCain's and Barack Obama's biggest fundraisers are executives from the stricken financial services industry, which will need all the help it can get from whoever wins the White House.

Merrill Lynch & Co.'s chief executive, for example, has raised more than $500,000 for McCain's campaign. Obama has received at least $1.5 million collected by three senior executives at Lehman Brothers.

McCain and Obama each are considering how to avoid future collapses and the need for further costly government bailouts, steps that may include tougher banking and investment regulations. But executives from the same companies in the crosshairs of such decisions are helping these candidates get elected.

Obama is promising more regulation, as is McCain, and if the winner of the November election acts on the tough talk, a battle with banks, securities and investment firms and insurance companies could follow.

The tough talk is coming from candidates who have fueled their campaigns with Wall Street money. Securities and investment firms gave $9.9 million to Obama and $6.9 million to McCain through July, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a private group that tracks money spent in politics. The industry is McCain's No. 3 contributor and Obama's No. 4 contributor, according to the center.

Wall Street-based firms were among the most active at "bundling" contributions for the two candidates.

Three executives from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have raised at least half a million dollars for Obama. That firm is Obama's top source of campaign money overall; its employees have contributed more than $690,000 to his campaign, according to the center.

Merrill Lynch's chief executive, John Thain, has raised more than $500,000 for McCain. Merrill's workforce likewise is McCain's top donor, giving nearly $300,000.

Separately, employees from the commercial bank and insurance sectors gave McCain's campaign $3.6 million and Obama's campaign $3.4 million.

So, how can candidates who accept money from Wall Street be expected to crack down on it?

"Industries sink their tentacles into these candidates," said Taylor Lincoln, a research director at Public Citizen, a non-partisan watchdog group.

Congress collects considerable money from Wall Street, too. Democratic candidates have accepted nearly $37 million from securities and investment firms in the current election, and Republicans have accepted nearly $29 million.

The industry's contributions to all federal candidates and political parties: $101 million so far in this two-year election cycle.

Merrill Lynch and its new owner both will be looking for help from the White House. Merrill Lynch jumped into the arms of Bank of America Corp. over the weekend to avoid becoming the next Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy protection Monday.

Following a weekend that reshaped Wall Street, Goldman Sachs is the larger of the nation's two remaining major independent investment banks. The other is Morgan Stanley, where employees have contributed $300,000 to Obama and $217,000 to McCain.

It's still early, but Wall Street's institutions may have good reason to worry about a new president, once they get past the life-and-death issue of financial survival.

In March, before the latest round of financial carnage, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he anticipated the next president and the next Congress would address Paulson's blueprint for the biggest overhaul of government financial regulation since the Depression.

It would give the Federal Reserve more power over investment banks, collapsing banking agencies into one superagency. Now, more drastic plans are under consideration.

"We've gone from the point of thinking about consolidation of regulatory agencies to some fundamental change," said Don Kettl, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "It seems impossible to escape at this point."