The financial industry looms large in the coming primary – and some bankers say they’ll push for the Vermont senator even if his policies could hurt their careers.
A few months ago, Democratic party leaders attended a meeting in New Yorkwith some of the titans of Wall Street, among them heads of brand-name hedge funds and top private equity firms. The gathering was billed not as the usual high-dollar fundraiser but as a bridge-building exercise in which powerful financiers could vent their opinions privately to Democratic bosses.
Two US senators who formed part of the Democratic delegation kicked off the meeting by inviting the financiers to air their concerns about party policy. One of the big name Wall Street figures stood up, proclaimed grandly that he was speaking on behalf of every financial person in the room, and then slammed into the Democratic lawmakers for having had the audacity even to consider disbanding a low-tax arrangement popular with hedge fund managers known as “carried interest”.
“That was startling to me,” said one of the other financiers present in the room that day. “Here was a gathering of Wall Street’s greatest minds and what were we discussing? Not how to generate more jobs or create an economy that works for everyone, but how to protect our vested interests and tax advantages.”
Let’s call the financier speaking here by the false name Frank. He is one of a rare and fascinating breed which Politico has dubbed Bankers for Bernie – high-profile Wall Street figures who, unlike most of their peers, are prepared to abandon pure self-interest and embrace the radical financial reforms espoused by Bernie Sanders.
Even Asher Edelman, one of the real-life templates for Gordon “greed is good” Gekko of the 1987 movie Wall Street, has joined the club, writing in the Guardianthat only Sanders is “committed to honest solutions” to the crisis of income inequality.
The fact that Frank – a prominent New York hedge fund manager – is only willing to talk to the Guardian anonymously itself tells a story. It’s not that he’s ashamed about his backing for Bernie – quite the contrary: he has openly canvassed for Sanders in Iowa and frequently goes out leafleting for him in New York City. Rather, Frank’s desire to keep his name out of the news was a reflection, he said, of the stultifying consensus within the New York financial world that Sanders’ proposals to rein in Wall Street and prevent another Great Recession are dangerous and must be rebuffed. He looks at his fellow hedge fund folk, and thinks to himself that “they have made so much money, yet all they want to do is preserve what they’ve got. It’s got so out of whack that virtually nobody is willing to think about the basic unfairness of income inequality or how to improve the economy.”