"Wall Street shifting toward Republicans," blared a front-page headline in The Washington Post last week. "Commercial banks and high-flying investment firms have shifted their political contributions toward Republicans in recent months amid harsh rhetoric from Democrats about fat bank profits, generous bonuses and stingy lending policies on Wall Street," the Post announced, making it sound as if the sinister forces of corporate reaction were punishing the brave reformer in the White House. After all, Barack "Teddy Roosevelt" Obama assailed Wall Street bonuses for "fat cats" and has promised tax increases for the wealthy, in the name of spreading the wealth.
Except there's one datum, mentioned but not explored in the article that doesn't quite fit this story line: Wall Street is still giving more money to the Democrats. "The wealthy securities and investment industry ... went from giving 2 to 1 to Democrats at the start of 2009 to providing almost half of its donations to Republicans by the end of the year," the Post reports.
Almost half. That's another way of saying that the allegedly vindictive Wall Street fat cats are still giving more than half of their political donations to Democrats, also known as the party in power.
It turns out that's what most big businesses and fat cats do: back the winner. And that's probably the best explanation for why the Republicans are getting more money from Wall Street these days. Everyone agrees that the GOP is poised to make huge gains in the House and Senate, conceivably taking one or both chambers. Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race also took away the Democrats' supermajority. As several lobbyists have explained to me, just as a matter of political math, the Republicans matter now. When Senate Democrats had all the power, lobbyists had to give more money to Democrats. Now that the equation has tilted back toward the center, giving has become more evenhanded.
No doubt, with populist prairie fires raging across the political landscape, the White House hardly regrets being cast as the enemy of "special interests" and beady-eyed bankers who look like Mr. Monopoly. But the truth of the matter is a bit different.
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