Hey Bernie, I’m a banker and a liberal Democrat: Stop saying people like me are part of the problem

BY TODD H. BAKER

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Thursday, April 14, 2016, 3:04 PM

JAE C. HONG/AP

I admit it. I used to work for a bank. Three banks in fact — all large ones — and I was a high-ranking executive at each of them. One of them failed in the financial crisis and was sold off to another bank. Two of them are still around. And before that, I was a partner at a couple of big law firms and had clients that included banks and tech companies and lots of other companies.

I think banks serve an important purpose in the world. I also have many ties to Wall Street, both professionally and personally. I was part of the legal team that invented credit card securitizations in the 1980s and I quarterbacked some of the largest bank mergers of the 2000s as a business executive. I know a lot of investment bankers, lawyers, investors and other financial types. How could I not? I grew up in the New York suburbs, and many of my college classmates went into the corporate and finance world. My high school best friend’s father worked in a brokerage on Wall Street. Jamie Dimon was my best buddy in sixth grade. I could go on.

I’m also a lifelong Democrat who has given modestly but consistently over the years to Presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional campaigns, and to Democratic Party groups. I guess you could call me a proud liberal.

I don’t find these two identities — banker with ties to Wall Street and liberal Democrat — to be inconsistent. I have my job and I have my political beliefs and I have generally kept the two things separate.

But one of the leading Presidential candidates does.

When I listen to Bernie Sanders’ speeches and read the spin coming out of his campaign, I find that I am not the liberal Democrat in good and long standing that I thought I was, but in fact a “bankster” from Wall Street who, by giving money to Hillary Clinton, corruptly makes her tool of the bank and Wall Street cabal.

“Let’s not insult the intelligence of the American people,” Sanders has said. “Why in God’s name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it, they want to throw money around.”

It makes for good and fiery rhetoric, but it’s dead wrong. By combining the employer data in individual Federal Election Commission filings, the Sanders campaign can darkly suggest that it is a bank — say, Wells Fargo — that is making “huge” contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, rather than that some of its more than 265,000 individual employees have made personal contributions.

The Sanders campaign would have you believe that all individual campaign contributors who work for banks, or on Wall Street, or for oil companies, or law firms or other corporations, only make contributions to candidates in an effort to seek influence on behalf of their employers through monetary means.

Well, no, actually, I make donations because I believe in what the Democratic Party stands for: protection of health and safety, union and workers’ rights, civil, women’s and LGBT rights, Social Security, the environment, health care — the whole kit and caboodle. I canvassed for George McGovern as a teenager, drove Ramsey Clark’s car when he ran for senator in New York, cast my first presidential vote for Jimmy Carter and revere FDR and LBJ. I contributed to President Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

This year I am supporting Hillary Clinton, although I find some things that Sanders says to be cogent and compelling, including his views that the financial sector is too large a part of our economy and that income inequality is one of the great challenges of the times.

So what do I get for my record of contributions? Well, if corrupt influence was my goal when I make campaign contributions, I’ve been singularly ineffective. I’ve never received any favors or other advantages from my political contributions, which often go to candidates who hold positions on issues like regulation and taxation that my past employers’ lobbyists might object to.

To let you in on a little secret, the Democratic Party and its candidates barely seem to recognize that I exist once my latest contribution is in the bag (maybe that has something to do with the way I block the avalanche of subsequent wheedling email solicitations).

While I understand that rhetoric gets heated in a Presidential campaign, it’s time the Sanders campaign stopped peddling bogus arguments on this issue. Just because you work for a company or participate in an industry doesn’t make your campaign contributions a sign of corruption. People’s political views are not determined by their employer. That’s a ridiculous smear that insults the deeply-held beliefs of a lot of good citizens, and it is damaging to our political discourse at a time when we need all the civility we can get.

Baker is a lawyer, consultant and former finance-industry executive.

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