Wall Street Money or Tea Party Energy?

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A Choice for Conservative Elected Officials

A report from Public Campaign Action Fund

Winning candidates supported by the Tea Party in 2010 received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street and related corporate special interests, according to campaign finance data coded by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed by Public Campaign Action Fund. Many of these same candidates that received extensive support from Wall Street also won in districts that have been devastated by the housing crisis and suffer high foreclosure rates.

Public Campaign Action Fund examined the campaign finance history of the 52 candidates identified by ABC News as “Tea Party Winners.”1 These candidates, who include both incumbents and newly-elected members, received at least $11.1 million from the finance, insurance, and real estate sector in the 2010 cycle.2 In addition, 17 of these candidates benefitted from nearly $8.3 million in independent expenditures from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the main business organization opposing financial regulatory reform.

Although the Tea Party is best known as a grassroots movement that successfully propelled at least 52 candidates across the finish line, the fact that those candidates were also reliant on Wall Street money to fund their advertising campaigns suggests that the winning candidates now have two distinct, and conflicting, constituencies: the people that elected them, and the special interests that funded their campaigns. On many issues, including holding the banks accountable, this internal conflict may come back to haunt the grassroots members of the Tea Party movement.

Key Points from the Research:

  • Winning non-incumbent candidates supported by the Tea Party received at least $8.5 million in the 2010 election cycle from Wall Street interests. Incumbents supported by the Tea Party raised $2.5 million from the industry.
  • The Chamber of Commerce made $8.3 million in independent expenditures for the 52 winning candidates supported by the Tea Party, including $4.7 million on the Senate side and $3.5 million on the House side.
  • At least three Tea Party-supported candidates, including two of the most prolific fundraising freshman, have been named to the House Financial Services Committee.
  • At least two Tea Party candidates have hired former banking lobbyists as their chiefs of staff, while one of them is a former banking lobbyist himself.

Additional Analysis:

  • Four winning Senate candidates supported by the Tea Party received a total of at least $900,000 in support from both the financial sector and the Chamber of Commerce. They include Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who referred to financial reform as “badly flawed.”3


FIRE Contributions

Chamber Expenditures


Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)




Pat Toomey (R-Penn.)




Rand Paul (R-Ky.)




Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)




  • Thirteen winning House candidates supported by the Tea Party also received significant support from both Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce. They include newcomer Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who raised a total of $567,000 and said that he would have “voted against the financial regulation bill,” but for TARP, that supported the big banks.4


FIRE Contributions

Chamber Expenditures


Robert Dold (IL-10)




Joe Heck (NV-03)




Steven Stivers (OH-15)




Jim Renacci (OH-16)




Adam Kinzinger (IL-11)




Nan Hayworth (NY-19)




Sean Duffy (WI-07)




Sandy Adams (FL-24)




Randy Hultgren (IL-14)




Frank Guinta (NH-01)




Raul Labrador (ID-01)




Reid Ribble (WI-08)




Steve Southerland (FL-02)




  • Rep. Dold, who raised more in FIRE contributions than any other Tea Party-supported candidate for the House, is a new member of the House Financial Services Committee.5 Rep. Dold has hired Eric Burgeson, a lobbyist with BGR Group, as his chief of staff.6 The firm’s clients include the American Chamber of Commerce in China, PJSC Trust Bank, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, and Loop Capital Markets.7
  • Rep. Steve Stivers, a former banking lobbyist8 who received a total of $606,000 in support from the FIRE sector and the Chamber of Commerce, is a new member of the House Financial Services Committee.9
  • Tea Party favorite and prolific fundraiser Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) told a reporter that, “the financial reform bill should be repealed.”10 In 2010, Bachmann’s campaign committee and leadership PAC received $497,300 from financial interests. Rep. Bachmann is also a member of the House Financial Services Committee and has filed legislation, HR 87, to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) appointed Don Kent, a lobbyist for Global Navigators, as his chief of staff.11 The firm currently represents Citigroup and New York Life Insurance.12 After his election, Sen. Johnson visited the U.S. Chamber to think them for their support.13
  • Newly-elected Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) will represent a district that has been devastated by the housing crisis, with 143 foreclosures per 1,000 households.14 The Chamber of Commerce spent  $549,850 on independent expenditures on his behalf – more than for any other winning Tea Party candidate.
  • Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) will represent a district that has 78 foreclosures per 1,000 households, one of the most troubled in the nation. The Chamber of Commerce spent $200,000 in independent expenditures to support her campaign.


Election night polling shows that 72 percent of Tea Party supporters believe elected officials haven’t been “tough enough” on the banks and mortgage lenders.15 These new members of Congress have a fine line to straddle—appealing to their energized base or making sure their Wall Street cash keeps flowing.

The donors writing the big checks and running the independent expenditures expect returns on their investment and they’ll be reminding the newest members of Congress of this come January. If these Tea Party candidates are serious about changing Washington, then they need to change the way campaigns are financed.

One step these Tea Party politicians could take to mitigate the conflict is to support the Fair Elections Now Act. It would allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office by relying solely on donations from people back home. With Fair Elections, candidates won’t have to spend their time dialing for dollars from special interests or Washington lobbyists. Election night polling shows a wide majority of Americans from across the political spectrum support the legislation.16

If they don’t address our broken system, many of these candidates promising “change” in Washington, D.C. may fall victim to the exact same system they criticized on the campaign trail.

1. Which Tea Party Candidates Won?, ABC News. Available online at: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/2010_Elections/vote-2010-elections-tea-pa....

2. Public Campaign Action Fund analysis of FEC data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. This report only includes candidate fundraising through the 2010 Post-General reporting period. 

3. “Toomey Opposes Financial Reform Bill, but Doesn’t Back Boehner’s Call for Repeal” (July 15, 2010), TalkingPointsMemo.com. Available online at: http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/07/toomey-opposes-financial-refo....

4. Editorial Board Questionnaire, Chicago Tribune. Available online at: http://elections.chicagotribune.com/editorial/robert-dold/.

5. Lake County’s Newest Congressman Sworn In (January 6, 2011), Lake County News-Sun. Available online: http://newssun.suntimes.com/news/3172511-418/dold-committee-sworn-congre....

6. GOP Freshman Class Draws K Street Talent (December 8, 2010), The Hill. Available online: http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/132541-gop-freshman-class-draws-t...

7. The Center for Responsive Politics.

8. Kilroy attacks Stivers’ work as bank lobbyist (October 1, 2008), Columbus Dispatch. Available online at: http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2008/10/....

9. “House Financial Services Committee Picks Up 10 Newly Elected Members,” (December 10, 2010), The Hill. Available online: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/banking-financial-institutions/133...

10. “U.S. Faces Disaster from Financial Reform Bill, Bachmann Warns” (July 27, 2010), Newsmax.com. Available online: http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/michele-bachman-financial-reform-bill-di....

11. Tea Party’ Freshmen Embrace Status Quo (January 4, 2011), Los Angeles Times. Available online: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/04/nation/la-na-tea-party-20110105/3.

12. Center for Responsive Politics.

13. Financial arms race underway in Washington (December 11, 2010, Los Angeles Times. Available online: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-political-funding-2...

15. Americans for Financial Reform. Available online at: http://ourfinancialsecurity.org/2010/11/press-release-poll-displays-bipa....

16. Polling Commissioned by Public Campaign Action Fund and Common Cause. Available online at: http://fairelectionsnow.org/2010polling.