Financial firms support GOP incumbent in Mass. Senate race

MELROSE, Mass. — Wall Street's philosophy in one of the nation's most hotly contested Senate campaigns could be boiled down to an old proverb: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The financial industry has poured more than $6.2 million in contributions into the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, who has made the fight against Wall Street greed and corruption a cornerstone of her campaign.

Nearly $9 of every $10 have gone to Brown, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That money has helped Brown stay competitive with Warren, a darling of liberal donors from Harvard to Hollywood, in one of the nation's most expensive Senate races. Altogether, Brown had raised about $27.5 million through last month, compared with about $36.6 million by Warren, the latest filings show.

A race originally dubbed a referendum on Wall Street has broadened into other issues. But Wall Street still has a significant stake in the outcome of this neck-and-neck battle.

At first glance, Brown seems unlikely to have received more financial industry money than anyone running for Congress this fall.

After all, he was one of three Republicans to support the sweeping 2010 overhaul of financial regulations, providing the final pivotal vote that secured its passage over the strenuous lobbying of Wall Street.

Moreover, Brown refused to join nearly all his Republican Senate colleagues in blocking the confirmation of a director for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He also sided with consumer groups and retailers over banks in a high-stakes dispute over debit card fees.

Now, he's using those votes to try to gain the advantage in the election.

"I was the tie-breaking vote on Wall Street reform," Brown boasts in a campaign ad that sought to inoculate him from charges that he is too cozy with big business.

He did hold up the final passage to get some changes in the bill favored by the financial industry. So his record, in the words of one executive, is "a mixed bag."

Still, Brown has benefited greatly from being the opponent of a candidate that Wall Street loathes.

Warren, a Harvard law professor and former Obama administration aide, has been one of the industry's most outspoken critics. She's been pounding away at Wall Street in a race widely viewed as a toss-up — and her fervor has boosted Brown's contributions from the industry.

"People like Elizabeth Warren are scary to me because she's never taken risk," said Larry McDonald, a former vice president at Lehman Bros. who left before the firm's collapse and wrote a book critical of its management. Originally from Massachusetts, he co-hosted a Brown fundraiser this summer.

McDonald said he and other industry executives back Brown because he's been helpful on some issues and is willing to work across party lines.

But, he said, "I have to admit, he's probably raised more money against Elizabeth Warren because she's such a lightning rod."

Brown spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said the senator's break with his party on financial reform shows he's "an independent thinker."

"Both Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren accept financial industry donations, and in that respect their fundraising is the same," Marre said.

But Warren said the fundraising disparity shows the industry favors Brown.

"Scott Brown, he has some good votes," Warren told a rally of about 500 people Saturday in Beverly. "But too much of the time, he stands with the millionaires and the billionaires and the big oil companies."

Brown won a stunning upset in a 2010 special election in strongly Democratic Massachusetts to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy.

In his reelection campaign, Brown has stressed a bipartisan record in hopes of securing the Democratic and independent votes he needs to win in a state where registered Republicans make up just 11% of the electorate.

He's painted Warren, who embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement, as too extreme.

"Why would you send somebody down there who wants to be a rock thrower and leave blood and teeth on the street," Brown said last weekend at a boisterous campaign rally here, an upper-middle-class Boston suburb not far from where he grew up. "I'm a threat to the people in Washington that act extreme on both sides."

After the rally, Lynn resident Albert Malagrifa, 79, a Democrat turned independent, said Brown had his support. "He votes for the people," Malagrifa said. "He doesn't get swayed by different groups."

Brown is one of a disappearing breed — a Northeastern moderate Republican. He proudly proclaims himself pro-choice. He touts his work with Obama. And he frequently votes with Democrats.

Congressional Quarterly this year ranked Brown as the second-most bipartisan Republican, voting 69.6% of the time with President Obama. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with Obama 71.9% of the time.

Some of Brown's votes have complicated his relationship with the financial industry.

"Even though Sen. Brown has not always supported our views on every issue, we have found him to be reasonable and willing to listen to all sides on every issue," said Richard M. Sanborn, chief executive of Seacoast Commerce Bank in San Diego. Sanborn is on the board of Friends of Traditional Banking, a so-called Super-PAC that is supporting Brown.

"This doesn't have anything to do with Elizabeth Warren," Sanborn said. "It's who we believe has our interests in heart and listens to both sides."

The financial industry is a major employer in Massachusetts, which is home to mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments and State Street Corp., one of the nation's largest banks.

Despite his vote on financial reform, Brown has been helpful to the industry, said Ed Mills, a financial policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

Brown withheld his vote to get a $19-billion fee on the financial industry removed from the overhaul bill. The fee would have covered the government's cost of implementing the new regulations, but Brown argued it would have been passed on to taxpayers.

The bill was changed so its costs were covered by an early end to the $700-billion financial industry bailout fund.

Brown also worked with some key Massachusetts Democrats to ease the effect of new regulations on so-called proprietary trading on Fidelity and trust banks, such as State Street.

"Are they 100% happy with him? No," Mills said of the financial industry. "But are they mostly comfortable with him? Yes."

And many in the financial industry and the broader business community are anything but comfortable with Warren.

"Sen. Brown enjoys overwhelming business support both for his strong legislative record and because Ms. Warren is industry's worst nightmare — an academic with no business experience who thinks she is smarter and more virtuous than those competing in the real world every day," said lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, a former Commerce Department official in the George W. Bush administration.

Massachusetts Republicans rarely are in lock-step with the national party, and Brown probably voted for financial reform to avoid angering Democrats and independents, said Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

Still, financial executives would rather have a Republican in that seat, and Brown probably would have easily outpaced any opponent in contributions from the industry, Ubertaccio said. But Warren's candidacy amped up Brown's support.

"Running against the country's leading critic of Wall Street has helped to focus the attention of the financial industry on this race in a way that perhaps any other Democratic candidate might not have," Ubertaccio said.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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