STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's not surprising that both major party presidential candidates are slamming Wall Street this week. What may be surprising is who helps to pay for their calls for reform. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have accepted millions of dollars of campaign contributions from Wall Street, the same place they attack. NPR's Peter Overby has details.
PETER OVERBY: Republican McCain let Wall Street have it yesterday during a campaign stop in Tampa.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Nominee): In my administration we're going to hold people on Wall Street responsible, and we're going to enact and enforce reforms that make sure that these outrages, and they are outrages, never happen in the first place.
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OVERBY: And Democrat Obama campaigning in Golden, Colorado, also called for a stronger hand from Washington.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Nominee): Our capital markets cannot succeed without the public's trust. It's time to get serious about regulatory oversight, and that's what I will do as president.
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OVERBY: But just as Wall Street is the financial capital of the country, presidential hopefuls know it as the single best place to go for campaign cash. Obama has raised 10 million dollars from the men and women of Wall Street. McCain's take is somewhat less, but seven million dollars is still nothing to scoff at. The Center for Responsive Politics compiled these totals from data at the Federal Election Commission.
Mr. MASSIE RITSCH (Communications Director, Center for Responsive Politics): The question is, I think, will these candidates bite the hand that has fed them?
OVERBY: Massie Ritsch is with the Center for Responsive Politics. The center ranks the top sources of money for each candidate based on where individual donors work.
Mr. RITSCH: For both kinds, it's a who's who of Wall Street. For McCain, Merrill Lynch at number one, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, UBS. On Obama, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley.
OVERBY: Obama hasn't just gotten more dollars across the board. Within each firm he's generally picked up more than McCain. That's true at all of the big companies except Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse. Maybe the pro-Obama split is just following Wall Street's pro-Democratic giving pattern in recent elections, or maybe it's because Obama fits more naturally than McCain in a liberal, urban, northeast political scene where Wall Streeters circulate.
But it's Obama and not McCain who promises to repeal President Bush's tax cut for high-wealth individuals. That seems like a guarantee of higher taxes for many in the financial sector. At the Center for Responsive Politics, Massie Ritsch says Wall Streeters have many reasons for giving, just like any other donors. Sometimes it's altruistic, he says, and sometimes it's about access.
Mr. RITSCH: In many ways it can be a defensive measure of, all right, well, if we're going to have to deal with this guy, we at least want to be able to tell him why his ideas are going to hurt people other than us, you know, why this is not going to be good for the economy, why additional regulation is bad for business and bad for the economy. They want a seat at the table.
OVERBY: But this year may mark a peak in Wall Street's generosity. Merrill Lynch employees were a big source of political cash. Now the firm has been bought up by Bank of America. Lehman Brothers also had a strong tradition of political giving. This year it ranked number four among Wall Street firms for presidential campaign donors, until Monday, that is, when it filed for bankruptcy. So three years from now when the next band of candidates is scouting for money, the financial sector may not be nearly so flush, but still a richer source of money than anyplace else in America. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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