Goldman Sachs wallets closing after bankers’ bets on Bush sour

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, left, looks on as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a news conference in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday. The Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary could either prove to be a miraculous springboard or the final trap door for Bush's political fortunes. credit: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

NEW YORK _ Jeb Bush turned out to be such a bad investment for bankers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they threw at him has become a company joke. At least one senior person at the firm likes to remind his colleagues that their donations to his White House race haven’t worked out so well.

Following that misfire, along with a beating the Wall Street bank has taken from both sides in this year’s presidential race, contributions from employees of one of the most politically connected companies in the U.S. have plummeted. After donating almost $900,000 in the first half of 2015 to four favorite candidates and their fundraising committees, the firm’s bankers gave about $243,000 in the second half, Federal Election Commission filings released Sunday show.

Marco Rubio took over from Bush as the preferred candidate of Goldman Sachs donors, who gave the Florida senator about $118,000 in the second half of 2015, almost twice what he got in the first six months. Even so, the sum wasn’t close to the more than $700,000 that bankers at the firm gave Bush and his fundraising groups in the first half of the year. Their contributions plunged in the second half to about $47,000.

“It’s like buying a stock and watching it fall,” said Steven Shafran, a former Goldman Sachs partner who contributed to Bush’s super PAC and was a senior adviser at the Treasury Department to Hank Paulson, once the head of the bank. “Putting good money after bad? He certainly has enough for now. I think people are waiting to see if there’s someone they can support and who has a chance to win. If Jeb has a good New Hampshire, my guess is Goldman guys will pile back in again.”

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The early burst of money didn’t go as far as Goldman Sachs bankers would have hoped for Bush, Rubio and Ted Cruz, who trail billionaire Donald Trump in polls going into Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Even Hillary Clinton, their preferred Democrat, is locked in a close race in the Midwest state with Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who unveiled an ad last week decrying the firm’s political clout.

Goldman Sachs, whose employees gave Mitt Romney more cash for his failed 2012 White House bid than those of any other company, has become a rallying cry in this election. Cruz, whose wife is on leave from her job as an executive at the firm and who was mocked by Trump last month for failing to disclose a 2012 loan from the bank, has said it benefits from crony capitalism. Sanders has used the $675,000 Goldman Sachs paid Clinton for three speeches in 2013 to highlight her Wall Street connections.

Last month, Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein joked at an employee town hall that Goldman Sachs was bringing both sides together, according to two colleagues who attended. Andrew Williams, a spokesman for the bank, declined to comment.

Bush’s Goldman Sachs donors have included some of the firm’s most powerful bankers. Eric Lane, Timothy J. O’Neill, David Solomon, Craig Broderick and Richard Friedman are all on the management committee. In the first half of last year, when things were looking better for the former Florida governor, Goldman Sachs employees sent his super PAC Right to Rise USA and his leadership PAC Right to Rise almost $600,000, far more than they contributed to any other candidate in either party.

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Goldman Sachs employees have given steadily but modestly to Cruz and Clinton. The Texas senator got about $31,000 in the second half, up from about $21,000 in the first six months, while the former secretary of state got about $47,000, down from about $49,000.

Even if the firm’s presidential donations have declined, the Wall Street bank has other connections to power. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley are all alumni. And Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn gave House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Republican congressional fundraising committee $43,800 in December, one of its biggest donations of the quarter.

The federal data aren’t perfect. Cohn was listed as a self-employed investment banker on a $2,700 donation to Rubio in May, and Donald Mullen, who retired from the firm years ago, was listed as an employee on a $100,000 contribution to Clinton’s super PAC in June.

There’s also so-called dark money from nonprofit organizations that claim to have broader social agendas and don’t have to reveal their donors. Of the more than $300 million spent on political advertising since the start of last year, about two-thirds came from those groups, an analysis of Kantar Media CMAG data shows.

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Dark money aside, Goldman Sachs bankers sent Bush about eight times as much as they gave Clinton last year.

“The money he raised early was largely in order to give him the chance to blow the others away early, which we know he did not do,” said Roy Smith, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who was a Goldman Sachs partner until 1987. “In hindsight, they may regret giving the money – or not, I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t over.”

– With assistance from Dakin Campbell and Bill Allison.