Big Banks Bought the SAFE Banking Vote

On May 9, 2010, in The Public, by Donny Shaw

The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

– Sen. Dick Durbin

On Thursday night, the U.S. Senate took what is probably the most clear-cut vote for or against the big banks they will ever take. The question: should we force the “too big to fail” banks to shrink themselves back to the size they were in 2003, or should we let them keep growing as big and systemically risky as they want? The overwhelming answer from the Senate: let them keep getting bigger!

The Brown-Kaufman SAFE Banking Act amendment voted on Thursday night created a confounding division in the Senate. Some of the most conservative Republicans sided with a bunch of the most liberal Democrats in favor of forever doing away with “too big to fail.” However, the vast majority, a mix of so-called liberals, conservatives and moderates, voted to keep things just as they are.

There has been a lot of speculation over where exactly the division was on this amendment. Dylan Ratigan called it “The People’s Party” vs. “The Bankster Party.” And Matt Taibbi wondered if there wasn’t some kind of sick joke involved.

It was a strange roll call, but I think I’ve figured it out. It was all about campaign contributions.

Looking at finance/insurance/real estate sector campaign contribution data from, I found that senators who voted against the Brown-Kaufman SAFE Banking amendment have received nearly twice as much money from the big banks as the senators who voted in favor of it. Specifically, the average senator voting against the amendment has received $3,578,898 from the financial sector over the course of their career, while the average senator voting in favor has received only $1,846,292. It’s very close to double for those opposed. And when we are talking about millions of dollars, double is a whole lot of money and a whole lot of influence.

We can’t keep letting the banks receive public support to get bigger and riskier through hidden subsidies and bailouts. They are bigger right now than they were when they were first deemed too big to fail. The current financial reform bill does almost nothing to solve too-big-to-fail. It is business as usual. I really wonder, will Obama be proud of this bill when he passes it — does he really believe it will help to prevent the next crisis and the next round of bailouts, or does he just think it’s a political winner?

Below are the individual contribution totals for each senator from the finance/insurance/real estate sector divided by how they voted on the Brown-Kaufman SAFE Banking amendment. The data makes it perfectly clear — senators voting against the amendment were bought off and doing the bidding of the banks. The senators voting for the amendment were acting with independence and doing the only reasonable thing — voting to limit the size of the too-big-to-fail banks.

The 33 Yes Votes

Senator Career $ from Finance
Sen. Mark Begich [D, AK] $412,637
Sen. Jeff Bingaman [D, NM] $1,059,499
Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] $2,765,288
Sen. Sherrod Brown [D, OH] $1,620,430
Sen. Roland Burris [D, IL] $4,900
Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] $1,878,690
Sen. Ben Cardin [D, MD] $2,756,636
Sen. Bob Casey [D, PA] $1,355,841
Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] $1,078,264
Sen. Byron Dorgan [D, ND] $1,455,834
Sen. Richard Durbin [D, IL] $3,055,424
Sen. John Ensign [R, NV] $2,589,370
Sen. Russell Feingold [D, WI] $990,917
Sen. Al Franken [D, MN] $1,022,598
Sen. Thomas Harkin [D, IA] $2,534,445
Sen. Ted Kaufman [D, DE] $0
Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT] $615,682
Sen. Carl Levin [D, MI] $2,260,576
Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] $2,447,809
Sen. Jeff Merkley [D, OR] $721,157
Sen. Barbara Mikulski [D, MD] $1,301,068
Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA] $1,687,337
Sen. Mark Pryor [D, AR] $1,345,008
Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] $4,389,858
Sen. Jay Rockefeller [D, WV] $2,213,734
Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] $181,095
Sen. Richard Shelby [R, AL] $5,371,330
Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA] $6,406,258
Sen. Debbie Stabenow [D, MI] $1,899,835
Sen. Tom Udall [D, NM] $1,062,336
Sen. Jim Webb [D, VA] $563,161
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D, RI] $1,222,607
Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] $2,658,024
TOTAL $60,927,648

The 61 No Votes

Senator Career $ from Finance
Sen. Daniel Akaka [D, HI] $556,295
Sen. Lamar Alexander [R, TN] $4,940,775
Sen. John Barrasso [R, WY] $295,932
Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] $4,790,487
Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN] $4,393,347
Sen. Michael Bennet [D, CO] $835,796
Sen. Kit Bond [R, MO] $3,255,538
Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] $1,015,364
Sen. Samuel Brownback [R, KS] $1,336,269
Sen. Richard Burr [R, NC] $2,988,952
Sen. Thomas Carper [D, DE] $2,311,778
Sen. Saxby Chambliss [R, GA] $3,483,860
Sen. Thad Cochran [R, MS] $662,234
Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] $2,273,113
Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND] $2,507,437
Sen. Bob Corker [R, TN] $3,150,750
Sen. John Cornyn [R, TX] $4,597,492
Sen. Michael Crapo [R, ID] $1,779,063
Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] $14,367,412
Sen. Michael Enzi [R, WY] $1,087,043
Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] $3,657,556
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] $2,334,456
Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] $1,951,429
Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA] $2,605,399
Sen. Judd Gregg [R, NH] $1,070,249
Sen. Kay Hagan [D, NC] $585,694
Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT] $2,481,543
Sen. Kay Hutchison [R, TX] $4,694,038
Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK] $1,477,202
Sen. Daniel Inouye [D, HI] $1,453,487
Sen. John Isakson [R, GA] $3,849,408
Sen. Mike Johanns [R, NE] $697,621
Sen. Tim Johnson [D, SD] $3,143,865
Sen. John Kerry [D, MA] $18,112,577
Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D, MN] $734,117
Sen. Herbert Kohl [D, WI] $73,950
Sen. Jon Kyl [R, AZ] $3,741,994
Sen. Mary Landrieu [D, LA] $2,500,584
Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D, NJ] $3,478,817
Sen. George LeMieux [R, FL] $0
Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT] $10,084,996
Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] $33,474,029
Sen. Claire McCaskill [D, MO] $863,393
Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] $5,247,103
Sen. Robert Menéndez [D, NJ] $4,151,772
Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] $875,690
Sen. Bill Nelson [D, FL] $3,213,078
Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] $2,844,056
Sen. Jack Reed [D, RI] $2,897,782
Sen. James Risch [R, ID] $228,711
Sen. Pat Roberts [R, KS] $1,647,286
Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY] $15,918,336
Sen. Jeff Sessions [R, AL] $2,158,535
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen [D, NH] $1,046,765
Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] $1,700,184
Sen. Jon Tester [D, MT] $603,993
Sen. John Thune [R, SD] $3,636,776
Sen. Mark Udall [D, CO] $1,781,168
Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] $2,770,340
Sen. Mark Warner [D, VA] $2,632,766
Sen. Roger Wicker [R, MS] $1,263,098
TOTAL $218,312,780