Show Me The Money!

politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”

Oscar Ameringer 1870-1943

With apologies to the cast of Jerry Maguire, this post is not about sports – unless politics  is now the national pastime.  This post is only peripherally related to the forthcoming election by virtue of the cash.  Period.  Today is not about Purple, Red or Blue – but Green.

Last week I mentioned that any sales of my banks were on hold pending a study which I have now completed.  The common denominator in any US election is fundraising.  The Federal Election Commission lays out the rules of the game, one of which is that cash must be held in one (or more) domestic financial institutions.  For a multitude of reasons (mostly tax related), most campaign advisors recommend placement in a non-interest bearing account.  (Exceptions are rampant – particularly among PACs, but we’ll assume otherwise for simplicity’s sake).

In the current environment, low or no-cost money is key to profitability.  Once critical mass is attained, the spread between cost of funds and the amount earned can be significant.  Three ready sources (that I’m aware of) exist – HSA/FSA accounts (covered previously), state and local tax accounts (still looking for a data source) and political money.

The main problems with political money are additional reporting requirements and stickiness.  A media buy can pull thousands (or millions) of dollars from an account in short order – which could be problematic for many smaller banks.  That said, I kind of had to wonder if the PE ratio noted by Lanny of Peoples United (PBCT) is attributable in part to the fact it was of two used by the Bernie Sanders campaign.  Or perhaps it is an offset to one of my banks’ heavy leverage to the oil patch (BOKF).

Political money is quite often invested in brokered CDs (ensuring FDIC insurance), Treasuries and other low risk and therefore low-yielding investments.  One such bank, Amalgamated (AMAL) reported (March 2020) $774.8m in political deposits (campaigns, PACs, and state and national party committees) with a net interest margin of 3.46%.  All that is required is a decent algorithm to ensure liquidity as the candidates spend their money.

As I was identifying which banks to retain in a post-Motif world, figured it might be enlightening to identify if there was a Republican alternative to the Democratic Amalgamated?  The amount of blatant hypocrisy embedded in the money?  Preconceived notions that were pierced?

I identified 842 campaign accounts reported to the FEC.  116 candidates had no report on file – pretty evenly split between parties.  One of the reasons is explained in this article.  115 of the accounts were held at non-public institutions (private banks, mutual societies or Credit Unions).  For the purpose of this analysis, both categories were ignored with one exception.  66 institutions had the account of only one candidate which were also ignored (except for the self-reporting piece) as they were generally banks in the state or district of the candidate.

The first exception was the answer to Question #1  – a Republican alternative to AMAL.  The answer is an unqualified yes, although Chain Bridge Bank is a closely held (not publicly traded) corporation.  It probably played the spread a little better than AMAL by investing in Treasuries last year, locking in then higher rates.  I identified 42 Republican accounts  held at Chain Bridge versus 88 Democratic at AMAL.  Some Republican accounts of note (at Chain Bridge) include: John Cornyn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Lindsey Graham (SC), Joshua Hawley (MO), Rand Paul (KY), the Republican National Committee and one Donald J. Trump.  Notable Democratic accounts at AMAL include: Richard Durbin (IL), Kamala Harris (CA), John Lewis (GA), AOC (NY), Bernie Sanders (VT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), the Democratic National Committee and Joe Biden.

As far as hypocrisy goes, in politics it’s second nature and there’s little difference with the money.  While Democrats seem to thrive keeping Wells Fargo’s feet to the fire after multiple misdeeds over the years, apparently they aren’t severe enough to warrant fellow House Financial Services Committee members David Scott (GA) and Madeleine Dean (PA) to move their accounts or other notable Dems such as Timothy Kaine (VA) or Ted Lieu (CA) either.   Republican’s aren’t immune from hypocrisy either.  Consider the President’s America First campaign.  Apparently Brian Bavin (TX), Richard Shelby (AL) – both BBVA, Glenn Grothman (WI – BMO), Devin Nunes (CA – MUFG) , Ken Calvert (CA – RY) and John Cornyn (TX – UBS) all consider repatriating profits to other countries (Spain, Canada, Japan and Switzerland) the path to making America Great Again.  Moving along …

Let’s talk of my biases – things I had presumed accurate with little basis for the assumption.  Things like Zions Bancorp (ZION) based in Utah would have a conservative political bent.  In fact, 75% of their political accounts are Democratic.  Or the International Bank of Commerce (IBOC) with their CEO an ardent Trump supporter headquartered in a border town with both their political accounts being Democratic.  Or First Republic (FRC) that had some interesting – if not questionable – dealings with Trump associates entrusted by two Democrats. So much for preconceived notions …

The top ten publicly traded banks holding political campaign money are (# of accounts):

Bank of America Corp BAC 115
Amalgamated Bank AMAL 89
Wells Fargo & Co WFC 87
Truist Financial Corp TFC 81
PNC Financial Services Group Inc PNC 23
Citigroup Inc C 19
JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM 17
Eagle Bancorp, Inc. EGBN 14
Cadence Bancorp CADE 13
Capital One Financial Corp. COF 13

If I were to wager a guess, Amalgamated and Chain Bridge have the number of accounts to move the needle a little where the others either don’t have the critical mass or their sheer size dwarfs any impact to earnings.

I currently own AMAL, BAC, BANF, BMO, BOKF, C, CBSH, CFR, CHCO, CMA, FFIC, FHN, FMBH, HOMB, HTH, IBOC, JPM, KEY, ONB, PB, PBCT, PNC, RY, TD, UMBF, USB, VLY and WFC all with varying degrees of campaign funds.