As the presidential election nears, many Bay State bankers are voting with their checkbooks.

Bankers in Massachusetts have given $38,000 to campaign funds so far. Texas Gov. George W. Bush received $22,000 from the bankers, while Vice President Al Gore received $16,000.

A review of campaign contributions reveals that while Bush received the majority of contributions from bankers, a number of high-profile bankers backed Gore. Most workers at the former BankBoston made their checks out to Bush, but former Executive Vice President Ira Jackson gave $1,000 to Gore’s campaign.

A dozen employees of Citizens Bank, including several senior executives, gave to Gore. Citizens Financial Group Chief Executive Officer Lawrence K. Fish topped the list with a gift of $1,000.

The prevalence of bankers giving to the Democratic candidate may be tied to the state’s history of Democratic leaders, said Doug Weber, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. The CRP compiled information about the Bay State bankers based on information filed with the Federal Election Commission.

“That may just represent Massachusetts,” Weber said. “The state is highly Democratic in its politics.”

Massachusetts ranks No. 1 among states in the percentage of campaign contributions it gives to Democrats, about 66 percent, and is eighth in the overall dollars it gives to Democrats, Weber said.

The Bay State bankers’ support of Gore defies conventional wisdom that bankers support conservative candidates, often choosing the business-friendly measure of Republicans over Democratic policies.

Finance, insurance and real estate companies led in donations to Bush, giving $14 million of the $93 million Bush had raised by Aug. 3, according to a filing from the Federal Elections Commission. Finance companies contributed $2.7 million, while commercial banks gave another $1.2 million.

By contrast, Gore received just $3.7 million of his $53 million in campaign funds from the finance, insurance and real estate sector.

The number of donations from Citizens Bank employees could be tied to two top employees who support Gore. Citizens Financial CEO Fish has spoken out on U.S. immigration policies, and is rumored to be interested in an ambassadorship.Citizens Bank Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs Heather Campion joined Democrats at their national convention in Los Angeles last week.

Campion previously had a career in the public sector, working in the White House during the Carter administration and working on the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale. Campion gave $500 to Gore’s bid for president.

Citizens Bank of Massachusetts President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas J. Hollister contributed $1,000 to Gore’s campaign.

Citizens Vice Chairman Robert M. Mahoney gave Gore a donation of $1,000, and Executive Vice President Hal Tovin gave $500 to the Gore cause. Senior vice president for retail banking Mary Lynn Lenz contributed $250 to the Gore campaign.

The bank’s regional president for Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts, Martie Dwyer, contributed $250 to Gore. Senior Vice President for Cash Management Peter Galligan gave $250; Senior Vice President William R. MacKenzie, the bank’s top commercial lending officer for Greater Boston and the South Shore contributed $250; and Bennett W. Schwartz, senior vice president of international banking, also gave $250.

Boston’s largest hometown bank, Fleet Financial Group, had fewer campaign donors. Sovereign Bank New England CEO John Hamill gave $1,000 to candidate Bill Bradley last summer, when he was still president of Fleet Bank of Massachusetts. Fleet Vice President Elizabeth B. Perik gave $2,000 to the Gore campaign and $1,000 to Lamar Alexander. Another four Fleet employees contributed a total of $3,500 to the Bush campaign.

At the former BankBoston, eight people contributed to the presidential campaigns. Six employees gave a total of $5,000 to Bush, while Jackson and Charles A. Walsh each contributed $1,000 to Gore.

The husband and wife executive team from Boston Bank of Commerce contributed to Gore over the last two years. Bank Chief Executive Officer Kevin Cohee and Senior Vice President Teri Williams Cohee gave a total of $3,500 to the campaign.

Another community banker, Stergios Kostas of Mayflower Co-operative Bank in Middleboro, gave $1,500 toward the Gore cause. The vice president of retail banking at Mayflower said he made the contribution at a fund-raising dinner in Boston, which he attended with a friend who is a former state legislator.

“I’m an independent, not a registered Democrat,” Kostas said. “It was an opportunity to see the vice president speak, and potentially the next president.”

A top official of Wainwright Bank, which supports social issues like gay rights, put his money behind Bush, who calls himself a compassionate conservative. Co-chairman John M. Plukas gave $1,000 to Bush last year.

Bush received strong support from State Street Bank & Trust. State Street employees gave $5,250 to the governor, led by Nicholas Lopardo, CEO of State Street Global Advisors. State Street President and CEO David Spina gave $1,000 to Bush.

Elizabeth T. Foote, who identified herself as a consultant to United Co-operative Bank in West Springfield, gave the Texas governor $1,000.

A Concord resident who works for Bank of America investment management, John M. Kern, gave $1,000. A Weston resident who identified himself as an investment banker with Chase Manhattan Bank, James L. Dowd, gave $500 to Bush.

In the Air
Bankruptcy reform, privacy regulations and predatory lending legislation could become issues as the presidential election nears. Action on these issues could be affected by who becomes the next president. However, as both parties have become more moderate and congressional leaders have focused on bipartisanship, some of the old differences have faded.

“There certainly have been a number of Republican congressmen who are in favor of some of the issues that we support,” said Tanya M. Duncan, director of federal regulatory and legislative policy for the Massachusetts Bankers Association.

Predatory lending has caught the attention of politicians this year, and at least three bills have been proposed at the federal level.

“The industry’s position is that we certainly support legislative and regulatory efforts to eliminate abusive practices of unscrupulous lenders; however, most of this type of lending is the domain of non-bank lenders that are not subject to this type of legislation,” Duncan said.

Bankers will also monitor efforts to protect consumer privacy. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act passed last November required banking regulators to formulate privacy regulations. Banks must implement the new rules by July 2001. However, debate over consumer privacy has continued in Congress and at the State House.

As legislators worked to pass bankruptcy reform, disagreement over bills has fallen largely along party lines. The House passed a Republican bill that businesses favored earlier this session. That bill would institute a means test, requiring more consumers to pay back their debts. The Senate passed a more consumer-friendly Democratic bill. Legislators have worked out a compromise bill, but President Clinton has threatened to veto any bill that is too hard on consumers. If Clinton does not sign the legislation, reform efforts will likely continue under the new president.

Bankers Open Wallets For Gore, Bush Efforts

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min