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The Tea Party and Wall Street Are Even Closer Than We Thought

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Ever since the Tea Party Republicans arrived on the scene in Washington, I’ve cast a wary eye at the notion of them as grass-roots insurgents disconnected from the party’s big business and Wall Street base. Heck, when I went looking for one Tea Party tribune, Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, the night of the August 2011 vote to resolve that summer’s debt-ceiling showdown, I found him at a fundraiser in AT&T’s box at National Stadium.

But even I, with my lack of illusions on this score, was startled to see just how tight the business lobby-Tea Party bond has been, as revealed in today’s Washington Post by Tom Hamburger and Jia Lynn Yang, with help from the Center for Responsive Politics. They report:

The American Bankers Association gave more money over the past two election cycles to GOP lawmakers who in effect voted to allow the United States to default on its debt than those who voted against that scenario. The ABA contributed $2.2 million to lawmakers who ultimately ignored the group’s warnings, second only to the Club for Growth and just ahead of Koch Industries, both of which are leading sources of funds for conservative candidates…

At financial services firms, including hedge funds and major banks, contributions totaled more than $26 million over the past two election cycles to the Republican lawmakers who voted against a deal to reopen the government and avoid a first-ever debt default. Employees and the political action committee of Goldman Sachs, which didn’t comment for this article, gave $1.06 million from 2009 to 2012 to the group of GOP lawmakers who voted against the deal. At Bank of America, which also declined to comment, contributions totaled $1.03 million. Hedge funds gave $1.7 million….

Employees and political action committees at Honeywell, the manufacturing conglomerate [whose CEO David Cote was among the Fortune 500 types warning against the shutdown] contributed nearly $2.1 million to last week’s naysayers while providing slightly less to yes-voting Republicans. At AT&T, contributions reached $1.9 million for no-voting members and $2.1 million for those voting “yes.”

Even the proud leader of the defund-Obamacare government-shutdown movement got the business lucre:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose 21-hour floor speech helped spark the crisis and who voted against the debt-ceiling deal, received $786,157 from financial services companies — more than the $705,657 he received from the Club for Growth. Cruz’s wife works at Goldman Sachs, whose PAC gave $5,000 to her husband in 2012.

The question now, of course, is whether big business and Wall Street keep shoveling money toward those in the congressional suicide caucus. There are already signs of a rethinking underway, with talk of non-lunatic business-backed challengers in Michigan and Utah, and with some donors holding off on writing the usual checks to the GOP. Still, the Post’s report reminds us that we should not be surprised if this shift is marginal at best. The fact is, Ted Cruz and his ilk were making no bones at all about what they planned to do in Washington, and got plenty of backing from supposedly sober business types nonetheless. Why? Because their interests overlap more than the new talk of a rift acknowledges, on everything from taxes to organized labor to government regulations. What was the final demand that many in the shutdown caucus were making? The elimination of a tax on some of the highest-margin companies in the country—not exactly a typical pitchfork-wielding cause. Make no mistake: The great Shutdown Debacle of 2013 may have carried the Tea Party label, but it was made in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the C-suite.

Addendum, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday: It's worth noting that Ted Cruz is not just getting big financial support from Wall Street. He's also on its health plan.