Goldman Sachs always has clout in Washington, as evidenced by the firm’s alumni serving as Treasury secretaries under both Presidents Bush and Clinton. Today, in these tumultuous times of bailouts and meltdowns when the investment banking leviathan needs Washington more than ever before, Goldman can leverage its most valuable asset yet—incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Goldman Sachs is the giant of Wall Street, and more than any other investment bank, Goldman is surviving the current financial storm. Traditionally a Democratic booster, and one of Barack Obama’s top sources of funds in this past election, Goldman has always had some particularly strong allies within government. Emanuel is one such ally.
An interesting early chapter in the Goldman-Emanuel relationship took place in the setting of Bill Clinton’s campaign for the White House in 1992. Clinton hired Emanuel as his chief fundraiser.
At the same time, however, Emanuel was on the payroll of Goldman Sachs, receiving $3,000 per month from the firm to “introduce us to people,” in the words of one Goldman partner at the time. This is certainly a noteworthy relationship, but it’s one that has almost entirely escaped scrutiny.
Corporations and partnerships are and were at the time prohibited by law from contributing to federal candidates out of the corporate coffers. So, while Rahm tapped Goldman employees personally for six figures in gifts to Clinton’s candidacy—more than any other firm—Goldman, as a company, was helping keep Clinton’s top fundraiser well-fed.
When you look at the explanations Goldman and Emanuel gave for Emanuel’s employment—he was advising on “local political races” or “introduc[ing] us to people”—it’s easy to suspect that Goldman was using firm money to fund the Clinton campaign by paying the campaign’s top fundraiser for nebulous “consulting” work—all while the campaign was in debt and delaying paychecks to campaign staff.
You can run a campaign on the cheap if you can get big corporations to pay some of your staff’s salary for you. This isn’t a far-fetched theory, especially considering the slew of fundraising irregularities the Federal Election Commission noted in Emanuel’s fundraising efforts for Clinton.
A Washington Post article from the era reports that FEC auditors “found that nine companies or individuals, including Goldman Sachs & Co.—where Clinton fund-raisers and officials Robert E. Rubin and Kenneth D. Brody worked … were paid $246,162 by the primary committee for work at discounted rates. Normally, companies have to charge campaigns the same rates they would other customers.”
So, Goldman may have been funneling money to Clinton’s campaign through the back door (Emanuel’s retainer and those discounts the FEC noted), and the front door. By March of 1992, the heart of that dramatic primary season, Goldman partners had sent $54,000 to the Clinton campaign.
They would contribute another $50,000, making the firm the top source of funds for Clinton’s election, and contemporaneous media credit Emanuel, together with Robert Rubin, with this tight relationship.
In his four terms in Congress, Emanuel has raised $74,750 from Goldman, making the firm his number four source of funds. Goldman has helped Emanuel. How has Emanuel helped Goldman?
The most obvious answer, as mentioned in this column two weeks ago, is in Emanuel’s lead role in shepherding the “$700 billion” bailout—first proposed by former a Goldman CEO, Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson—through the skeptical House.
Of course, back in the Clinton days, Goldman benefited from NAFTA and the bailout of the Mexican currency, with Emanuel pushing NAFTA through Congress, and Rubin hammering out the peso bailout.
Did Goldman improperly funnel money to the Clinton campaign by subsidizing Emanuel’s salary in 1992? Did Goldman’s help to Clinton spur the Democratic president to push NAFTA and the Mexican bailout?
The answers to these questions are opaque, and with Emanuel burrowed deep within the Obama White House, the continued relationship between Goldman Sachs and Obama’s right hand man won’t be easy to follow.
Watch which regulations of Wall Street Obama fights for. Watch where the bailout money goes. And don’t be surprised Goldman soon sitting pretty once again.
Examiner columnist Timothy P. Carney is editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report. His Examiner column appears on Fridays.