The Banker's Candidate

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 16, 2007

Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd has two big jobs. He is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, and he chairs the Senate Banking Committee.

They are proving to be a lucrative combination. Among Democrats, Dodd's $5 million campaign nest egg is surpassed only by that of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who has one of the most elaborate fundraising machines ever assembled.

Dodd's electoral riches can be traced to the banking panel, whose jurisdiction includes some of the wealthiest industries in America -- banking, insurance and financial services. In addition, Dodd's home state is the hedge fund and insurance capital of the country.

But it is Dodd's philosophy, not only his geography, that has made him a cash magnet. Each of these big-money interests applauds his light-handed approach to financial regulation and considers him a reliable friend -- a fact that raises questions about Dodd's viability in a Democratic field even as it bolsters his fundraising prowess.

In recent presidential polls, Dodd has been little more than an asterisk. And his closeness with Wall Street will probably not help him with the liberal-leaning Democrats who tend to vote in presidential primaries, analysts say. "It's not something you would trumpet to primary voters," said Nathan L. Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

At the same time, the ample donations those connections have fostered will enable him to make his name more widely known. "At this stage, the money primary is the biggest race," Gonzales added.

Financial services companies "will be making contributions to Dodd's presidential run because they can't afford to annoy him," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Whether or not his presidential ambitions go anywhere, he'll still be the chairman of Senate Banking Committee, and they will still need his goodwill."

Dodd, who was elected to the House in 1974 and the Senate in 1980, has never shied away from collecting funds from financial services companies. Since the midterm elections last year, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase have hosted fundraisers for him, participants said. Insurance firms have held at least three fundraisers for Dodd.

Dodd collected $3 million in the last three months of 2006, outraising even Clinton. Employees of American International Group and Morgan Stanley were among the largest givers. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Dodd has raised more money for his Senate campaigns from securities and investment firms than from any other industry.

During an interview last week in his stately fourth-floor office on Capitol Hill, Dodd expressed distaste with the near-constant need to generate campaign contributions to sustain a presidential bid. But, he said, the system being what it is, he is resigned to traveling the fundraising circuit for the next year or more.

He said he will not hesitate to shake Wall Street's money tree, even though he is chairman of the committee that watches over its companies. But accepting millions of dollars from industries that his committee oversees will not affect his policy decisions, Dodd said.

"My record speaks for itself," the senator said. "I haven't changed my tune. I've been, I think, fairly consistent in my views on these issues."

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