Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Banking on the Candidates

When campaign finance restraints toppled, an unexpected problem emerged – where to put all that free-flowing, excess campaign cash.

contemporary-piggy-banksNaturally, a former politician from a banking family came up with an answer – a bank dedicated to storing all that cash, with flexible hours to allow for that last-minute withdrawal to pay for a phone bank, political canvass or campaign ad.

Writing for Bloomberg Politics, Phil Mattingly describes Chain Bridge Bank in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC., as disingenuously appearing to be a small town bank. Its single location is on the ground floor of a condo building next to a wine store and a café. There are only 40 employees. Bank tellers keep candy at their windows.

But looks can be deceiving. Chain Bridge Bank is where Jeb Bush deposited $11.4 million and another $103 million from his allied SuperPac, Right to Rise. Donald Trump is running his campaign expenses through the bank. It is also the bank of record for GOP presidential candidates Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul and Scott Walker.

That’s a lot of cash sluicing through one bank. No wonder bank executives provide their private cell phone numbers to their depositors. You never know when you need to buy an attack ad or pay for a little political spin.

One of former GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s financial advisers wondered aloud why anyone would put their campaign treasure chest in a “podunk little bank.” Well, this podunk little bank caters to political candidates and, as Mattingly put it, their “idiosyncrasies.” Romney wound up relying on the bank for his 2012 presidential campaign. House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican National Committee bank there, too.

Fitzgerald_Peter_09252012_01-cx*750Started by former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (the Republican Illinois senator who didn’t seek re-election, opening the way for Barack Obama’s ascension to the national political stage), Chain Bridge Bank is big on personal relationships while skipping most bank bureaucracy, like credit checks. All you really need is an endless supply of deposit slips with enough spaces to write in seven-number checks.

The bank moved from a blip on the financial map to the big-time in 2008 when then GOP presidential candidate John McCain wheeled his money into the house. Chain Bridge Bank went from $62 million in deposits to $123 million in the flash of a McCain campaign deposit.

Others have recognized the potential profit in servicing big-time political campaigns, so Chain Bridge Bank now has competitors. And where political campaign fundraising was once a seasonal enterprise, it now is constant and unrelenting. Mattingly reports that GOP presidential candidates have raised $293 million – and it is only mid-way through 2015. Let the profit-taking commence.

jebbushFitzgerald may not have predicted his gold mine success in 2007 when he launched his little bank. But he credits the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case with opening the floodgates of contributions that have spilled into his bank vault. He isn’t complaining.

Unlike many banks that fret over losing customers, Fitzgerald knows a lot of his presidential wannabe depositors will be moving on. Be he can be consoled with the thought that the eventual GOP nominee will rake in and spend a wad of money – all passing through McLean, Virginia and his bank.

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