Wall Street shuns Trump’s Cleveland convention – Politico
NEW YORK — Wall Street executives are hitting the sell button on the GOP convention in Cleveland next week.
Bankers typically use the quadrennial Republican Party gathering to schmooze clients, host parties and flaunt their connections to the nominee and other senior officials. In 2012, they flooded Tampa Bay to celebrate one of the industry’s favorite sons, Mitt Romney, getting the nomination.
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But with real estate mogul Donald Trump running on an anti-trade, populist platform — while sporting sky-high unpopularity ratings — many bankers and traders want nothing to do with the convention this year.
Neither do most corporate CEOs. The prospect of Trump bashing trade deals and talking about building a wall with Mexico, coupled with the threat of potentially disruptive protests, is largely keeping the financial world away from Cleveland.
“With Trump you have what is a fairly divisive campaign and you have the potential of unnecessarily offending a whole bunch of people if you show up there in a prominent way,” said Matt McDonald, a partner at consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies which does business with some of the nation’s biggest banks. “On top of that a lot of the people that you might want to get in front of for one reason or another are not going to be there.”
McDonald cited the long roster of senior Republican lawmakers skipping the convention as one major reason financial executives don’t feel the need to raise the flag in Cleveland.
So far, no major Wall Street CEOs have said they plan to attend the convention. JPMorganChase, which played a sponsorship role in 2012, declined to do so this year. Goldman Sachs will also be largely absent, as will Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. Citigroup plans only a low-key presence.
And unlike in 2012, when rank-and-file Wall Streeters were all over Tampa, many bankers and lobbyists who typically make the rounds will be taking a pass. “I’m just going to skip it because frankly I don’t see the point in going,” said a senior lobbyist for one of the largest banks in the nation. “Usually there is pressure to at least show up but with Trump you get a pass. No one is going to care if you don’t go.”
At Goldman, typically one of the most politically engaged banks on Wall Street, there may be almost no one at all going to Cleveland. “I asked around and couldn’t find a single person who planned to be there,” said one Goldman executive who declined to be quoted by name. “Most people who want to see someone from the Trump campaign can do it some other place at some other time. And the potential is there for Cleveland to be a complete shit show. It’s a real problem for executives because if you go you are certainly going to offend women and minority groups within your own company.”
Corporate unease with the GOP convention extends well beyond Wall Street. Google and Coca-Cola, after playing significant roles at Romney’s convention in 2012, backed away this year after pressure from activists.
But from a fundraising perspective, Wall Street’s absence from Cleveland could be the most ominous sign for the Trump campaign. Because while Trump may not want high-profile Wall Street executives endorsing him – he has run as a populist who wants to fix a “rigged” system – he desperately needs their money.
After a dismal start to fundraising, Trump reported raising $51 million at the end of May and in June. But the campaign did not release a cash-on-hand figure after reporting a paltry $1.3 million in the bank at the end of May. Clinton raised $68.6 million in June and reported having $44 million in the bank even after spending heavily on an early advertising blitz.
Wall Street is typically a fundraising bonanza for GOP presidential candidates. Romney, a former executive at private equity firm Bain Capital, raised over $60 million from the financial industry in 2012 to just over $20 million for President Barack Obama.
Romney’s top five sources of money in 2012: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Conventions are generally a good place to reward big donors with fancy events and candidate access but that’s hard to do if big donors don’t show up.
Trump is not without his supporters on Wall Street. After backing Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries, New York Jets owner and mega-donor Woody Johnson signed on with Trump. Johnson plans to be in Cleveland on Wednesday and Thursday night next week, according to a person familiar with his plans, but does not plan to do any fundraising while there. Hedge fund executive Anthony Scaramucci, who has emerged as perhaps Trump’s best Wall Street fundraiser, is expected to be in Cleveland too.
One of Trump’s other prominent Wall Street backers, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, who first backed Chris Christie and then John Kasich before coming around to Trump, has no plans to be in Cleveland and has said he is out of the fundraising game.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to comment other than to say to watch out for the long-promised list of GOP convention speakers, which she said would soon be released.
Many Wall Street executives staying away from Cleveland are taking their cues from some of the biggest names in the industry that have distanced themselves from Trump. Paul Singer, founder of giant hedge fund group Elliott Management and among the most influential donors in the GOP, said at the Aspen Ideas conference in Colorado last month that a Trump presidency would be a disaster.
“The most impactful of the economic policies that I recall him coming out for are these anti-trade policies,” he said. “And I think if he actually stuck to those policies and gets elected president, it’s close to a guarantee of a global depression, widespread global depression.”
Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, also recently said he could not back Trump and would instead be supporting Clinton.
“With Donald Trump as the presumptive presidential nominee, we are witnessing a populist hijacking of one of the United States’ great political parties,” Paulson wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “The GOP, in putting Trump at the top of the ticket, is endorsing a brand of populism rooted in ignorance, prejudice, fear and isolationism.”
Romney has been among the leaders of the “Never Trump” movement and does not plan to attend the convention. Many on Wall Street who backed Romney in 2016 and then Jeb Bush this year plan to sit out Cleveland. Bush himself does not plan to attend, nor does his cousin George Walker, the chief executive of investment firm Neuberger Berman.
For top Wall Street CEOs, the risks of appearing at Trump’s convention likely outweigh the rewards, according to corporate image experts.
“Any corporation will look at this from the perspective of whether or not they would want their CEO sharing a stage at Davos, Aspen or Sun Valley with the Republican nominee,” said Juleana Glover, a public affairs executive with extensive GOP campaign experience. “If the answer is no, they won’t be going to Cleveland. The risk of violence in the convention is secondary as security will be strong inside the perimeter. This is more a function of whether Mr. Trump and the ideas he most represents are homogenous with a company’s brand and business plan.”
The convention boycott is not entirely limited to Trump.
JPMorgan, for instance, is also not assisting with the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. The bank this year decided to make philanthropic contributions to each city instead. Goldman will also play no formal role in Philadelphia.
And the Bernie Sanders-influenced, leftward tilt of the Democratic Party and its platform is not exactly a welcome mat for big donors. But Clinton is hoovering up Wall Street cash as bankers hedge against the risks of a Trump presidency. Clinton and groups supporting her campaign had raised $32 million from the securities and investment industry through June to virtually nothing for Trump.
And Philadelphia is likely to be friendlier terrain for bank lobbyists and industry executives hoping to play roles in a Clinton White House. “I’m skipping Cleveland but going to Philly,” the senior lobbyist from the large bank said. “But that’s partly just because Philly is on the way to visit my kids at camp.”