For House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Wall Street is turning into a public relations headache and a political gold mine.
Threatened protests scotched one Cantor appearance at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month, and a speech last week at Northwestern University drew demonstrators from Occupy Chicago.
Yet Cantor's popularity among Wall Street executives has cemented his status as the top rainmaker on Capitol Hill, helping him raise an extraordinary $6.5 million for his GOP colleagues so far this year. That sum includes direct contributions and money raised on behalf of GOP candidates, a Cantor aide said.
Cantor has leveraged about a dozen interlocking campaign committees to run a quasi-party operation around the conservative Young Guns movement he launched with Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.). A former Cantor aide, John Murray, is now launching an independent organization built around an unrestricted super PAC and two nonprofits to spread the Young Guns message.
Cantor's personal political action committee has collected close to $2 million so far this year, placing it well ahead of any other leadership PAC in the House or Senate. In all of his fundraising efforts, top executives at banks, hedge funds and securities and investment firms play a starring role. Securities and investment industry donors have given close to $350,000 to both Cantor's campaign and his leadership PAC this year, making them his top source of donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But Cantor has raised millions more than that for a lucrative operation known as the Cantor Victory Fund 2012, a type of political organization known as a joint fundraising committee that may raise contributions far in excess of the individual limit of $2,500 per election. Sanctioned by the Federal Election Commission as a way for candidates to pool resources, joint fundraising committees raise big donations and then divvy up the dollars between multiple candidates and committees.
In the Majority Leader's case, the Cantor Victory Fund collects checks as large as $50,000 or more from individual donors and then parcels out the money to state and national GOP committees, to candidates in need and to Cantor's own PAC and campaign. Ten major donors, many of them top executives with finance industry firms, have given $50,000 or more this year to the Cantor Victory Fund, which has collected $2.4 million, according to the most recent public disclosures.
They include Randal Kirk, senior managing director and CEO of the investment management firm Third Security, who gave $50,200. The Cantor Victory Fund then doled the money out in chunks ranging from $2,500 to $30,200 to the Cantor campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee and to a Virginia GOP fundraising committee that shares the same treasurer and address as Cantor's PAC.
Democrats, watchdog groups and liberal protesters have trumpeted Cantor's finance industry backing as evidence of what's wrong with Wall Street. After Cantor warned of the "growing mobs" fueling Occupy Wall Street protests — comments he later modified — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington churned out a report touting Cantor's status as one of the House's top two recipients of finance industry donations.
CREW also played up Cantor's personal Wall Street ties: His wife, Diana Cantor, is a partner with a secretive New York firm dealing in private equity and hedge funds known as Alternative Investment Management. She was previously a managing director of New York Private Bank & Trust and a vice president at Goldman, Sachs & Co., whose employees have donated generously to Cantor over the years.
A stalwart opponent of tax increases who has clashed with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden during budget negotiations, Cantor has also led efforts to protect the preferential tax treatment awarded to hedge fund sales and to "carried interest," the money fund managers earn on investment gains.
The Majority Leader "has chosen to put himself in a position where he is a successful motivator for Democratic fundraising," one Democratic operative said. One state Democratic party organization built its "single most successful fundraising appeal of the year" around Cantor, he noted.
But for Republicans, Cantor's Wall Street money is filling an important hole. NRCC fundraising lagged behind Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee receipts last month, and House Republicans have been slow to pony up dues to the GOP committee.
Having helped win back the House by recruiting and grooming conservative Young Guns, Cantor is now stumping to defend them. He's set up more than a half-dozen joint fundraising committees, the Young Guns Victory Funds, to help candidates in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and South Carolina, public records show, and he is hosting fund raisers for them around the country.
He's also teamed up with McCarthy and Ryan to set up another joint fundraising committee, the Young Guns Majority Victory Fund, to pool the resources of the three lawmakers' leadership PACs.
Cantor's campaign and his leadership PAC, Every Republican is Crucial, have also donated some $1.3 million to the NRCC; given $5,000 apiece to no fewer than 140 House candidates; donated more than $100,000 to the Virginia GOP; and topped that off with contributions to the state GOP committees in Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and North Dakota, according to FEC reports.
"Our fundraising is obviously not down," Cantor senior strategist Ray Allen said. "A lot of people are looking to Eric for leadership, and a lot of people support what he's trying to do in the Congress."
Allen brushed off anti-Cantor assaults from protesters and Democrats, which the Majority Leader has set out to soften with a series of PR-minded YouTube videos and media appearances: "When you are trying to change things, a lot of people are going to try to shoot at you."