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Opinion: Merrill’s tough times translate to smaller donations

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Merrill Lynch is coming off a particularly bad fiscal quarter. In fact, it’s writing down $8.4 billion, most of it related to mortgage-related investments that have gone sour. That’s being described as the biggest loss on Wall Street in memory.

Now, according to The Times’ campaign finance guru Dan Morain, Merrill’s losses are trickling down to the presidential campaign in the form of smaller donations.

Merrill partners and employees have donated $947,500 to federal races this year. Of that, $679,000 has gone to presidential candidates, Federal Election Commission records show.

Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani has received the most -- $130,250 -- from Merrill-related donors. He’s followed by his foes, former Gov. Mitt Romney at $127,800, and Sen. John McCain at $104,500.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton received $117,000, and Sen. Barack Obama has hauled in $79,700.

But Merrill’s political generosity tailed off significantly in the third quarter this year. Presidential candidates received a mere 17% of their take between July 1 and Sept. 30.

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McCain may fear that Merrill’s view of his candidacy is about as shrewd as some of its recent investments. McCain’s take fell the farthest; he received a mere $3,800 in the third quarter.
Obama’s take remained the steadiest among the top-tier candidates. He received 27% of his Merrill money in the third quarter.

Obama is the one candidate who received an individual donation from Merrill CEO Stanley O’Neal, $2,300 back in April. Earlier this morning, as detailed on this site by The Times’ Walter Hamilton, O’Neal stepped down as head of Merrill with the usual sweet departure deal, the first head of a major investment firm to fall victim to the subprime mortgage crunch.

The ex-Merrill executive gave $1,000 to Obama back when he was first running for the U.S. Senate in October 2003. And Federal Election Commission records show O’Neal gave $1,000 to Clinton in August 2005.

--Andrew Malcolm


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