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FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE

Why These Wall Streeters Are Giving to Elizabeth Warren

The senator wants to go after Wall Street and supposedly inspires fear among its top brass. But a few employees of major financial firms are excited to see her doing it.

Gideon Resnick9.19.19 4:47 AM ET

Jhoana Ocampo has worked in finance for 14 years. There, she is surrounded by people who fret about what could happen to their industry should Elizabeth Warren win the presidency and implement the tough regulatory policies that are so closely associated with her candidacy. And yet, Ocampo has given $400 to the Massachusetts Democrat and plans to max out to her presidential campaign, saying that Warren's policies resonate with her more than most.

“I’m just a firm believer that we all prosper when the middle class prospers,” Ocampo, who didn’t want her employer to be named and stressed she doesn’t speak on their behalf, told The Daily Beast. “Some people just don’t have the time; frankly they might not even care to really understand what she’s talking about. It could be perceived as being extreme until you look at what the plans really say. I might work in the financial services industry but I don’t have too many friends who have $50 million in the bank.”

Ocampo has also gone to fundraisers for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But in Warren, she said, she saw something critically different. She’s “a very consistent advocate for the middle class,” she explained. “It was very important to me as I see that disappearing.”

Ocampo is part of what is so far a tiny, tiny minority of Warren donors in the financial industry. The senator, who has built a career warning about and legislating against the excesses of financial institutions—including crafting a consumer financial protection bureau to carry on that very mission—has reported receiving donations from only about 30 employees at the world’s top 20 investment banks.

It is a small crew composed of everyone from IT workers to risk managers at small firms and larger outfits. It’s also one that isn't quite yet comfortable trumpeting its politics. Ocampo, for starters, would only talk on the condition that her place of employment not be listed. Others declined to be named at all or declined to comment given their public-facing roles in various financial institutions. 

Being a Wall Street Warren backer, after all, can make one a pariah—a traitor to the cause of capitalism in its purest, unadulterated form. Earlier this month, CNBC host Jim Cramer declared that bank executives had grown fearful of the Massachusetts Democrat becoming president. 

While that may be true, Warren’s candidacy has still resonated with a (very) small subset of employees at various financial institutions.

“Elizabeth dreamed up and successfully fought for the creation of a new government agency that has returned more than $12 billion to people who were cheated by big financial institutions,” a campaign spokesperson said. “She helped push two Wells Fargo CEOs out the door because of their role in scamming customers. She has led the fight against Wall Street giveaways, and is not cozying up to Wall Street at fundraisers. She has been the leader in holding Wall Street accountable and getting results—she will do the same as president.”

One contributor, who shared information on the condition of anonymity, had worked in the financial industry for 20 years and had given to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his first campaign for the presidency in 2015. This time though, he has given $500 to Warren, motivated by one major reason.

“She came out first of anybody for impeachment. I think that was the number one thing,” this individual said referring to Warren’s push for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

At the heart of Warren’s appeal among this small sect of finance industry types is a larger disgust with the current White House occupant. Many Wall Street denizens continue to support President Trump, who has slashed taxes and regulations in ways that have been highly favorable to their industry. But he is not entirely beloved. The aforementioned donor said that politics comes up often at work because of “orange Jesus,” a reference to President Trump.

“You cannot escape it because there’s so much shit in the news on a daily basis that it has to come up at least once a day,” this donor said. Though the donor had given to Warren, he said he would be supportive of any Democratic nominee and surmised that former Vice President Joe Biden would not end up winning the nomination, despite his early lead in the polls. No one else with whom this person directly works has openly supported another Democratic candidate so far but the donor joked that he was waiting to get turned into human resources for the amount of time Trump comes up with some coworkers who back the president. 

Others in the Warren camp felt a bit more open about touting their support, perhaps because they’d been through similar waters four years ago. Wade Black, who works at the small investment firm Scarsdale Equities, counted himself among the “Bankers for Bernie” support group during the 2016 primary. 

Wade still favors Sanders in his second run for the presidency. But he said he has given money to both the Vermonter and Warren. For the latter, Black was inspired to contribute when she proposed one of her banner campaign issues: a wealth tax on net worth above $50 million.

“I’m still a Sanders guy but wouldn’t be upset if Warren got the nomination,” Black told The Daily Beast in an interview. “Primarily what the country needs right now is somebody inspirational and somebody that can really tear the system down piece by piece, the economic system that’s been plaguing us for decades.”

Black credited Sanders with shifting the frame of the conversation about the concept of government regulation and presidential politics in general. He said that it no longer seems so strange for someone like him to be supportive of the race’s more progressive candidates—that even contemporaries now concede that wealth inequality is a national emergency. 

“We’re a tiny firm in a large market of people that don’t always do the right thing,” Black said. “There’s a lot of regulation in our business; usually that’s reactionary rather than proactive. There’s a too-big-to-fail problem, there’s a too-big-to-prosecute problem that continues to this day, and there’s impunity for a lot of malfeasance and there’s no damage ever done to the big banks.”

The hope for many supporters of Warren and Sanders, including individuals like Black, is that the candidates could finally provide a much-needed check on Wall Street—that maybe, in the end, the medicine that the industry is being told to swallow will be good for it in the long run. 

“I thought Obama would be the kind of guy to do that and I was sorely mistaken,” he said. “There needs to be a non-captive administration, an administration that doesn’t defer to big business by default.” 

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