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One Bank’s Business Built on GOP Cash

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Customers of the bank said they are drawn to it because Chain Bridge employees understand and accommodate their needs. The bank offers late wire transfers that come in handy during the thick of a political campaign and bank staff members print their cellphone numbers on business cards.

Instead of building branches all over town, Chain Bridge has focused on buying technology that lets its political clients scan checks to make remote deposits when on the road.

Rob Zimmer, founder of Votesane PAC, said Chain Bridge understood his needs when many others "scrunched up their faces" at his PAC's structure. The citizen advocacy site lets users make donations to any candidate, regardless of party. The PAC spent $15,000 during the midterm elections.

"Chain Bridge said, 'Yep, OK, we get it. We think we know what you need,'" Zimmer said, and then the bank delivered.

Chain Bridge Bank doesn't offer legal advice, but Zimmer said it has also helped that the bank's staff is versed in campaign finance law.

"They know the room for error is basically zero," he said.

Emily Buchanan, executive director of the Susan B. Anthony List, said her conservative anti-abortion group chose Chain Bridge for similar reasons. With more than 60,000 low-dollar donors and thousands of small donations, Buchanan said, her group was willing to pay more for a bank that met its demands. The group spent $700,000 during the 2010 elections.

"They understand the speed at which we operate and the time-sensitive nature, especially during election periods," Buchanan said.

Not all of Chain Bridge's clients are overtly partisan. Trade associations and corporate PACs also bank with Chain Bridge, as does satirist Stephen Colbert's super PAC. K Street customers include C2 Group, Daryl Owen Associates, Capitol Solutions Government Relations, Jochum Shore & Trossevin and Capitol Hill Strategies.

Fitzgerald insists he did not set out to build a political bank but a local one that serves the community of McLean, Va. Many of the banks clients are personal account holders and small businesses not tied to the political scene.

"The bank's clientele is really representative of what the industry is in the Washington, D.C., area," Fitzgerald said.

He attributes some of the bank's success to its "very clean balance sheet" in 2007, when many of the larger banks were struggling with subprime mortgages.

"Not only did we not have any bad loans, we had very few loans," Fitzgerald said. The bank also did not take any Troubled Asset Relief Program money, a selling point for some conservatives opposed to President Barack Obama's financial recovery efforts.

As a Senator, Fitzgerald famously offered the sole opposition to an airline bailout after 9/11, asking on the Senate floor, "Who will bail out the American taxpayer?"

He continues to comment on current fiscal policy and has chided the deficit solutions offered by both parties. Fitzgerald also continues to help candidates raise money, political activism that helps boost his profile and the bank's.

"Of course, we are a relationship-oriented bank, so personal relationships are very important," he said.

Correction

The article misstated the job title for Emily Buchanan, executive director of the Susan B. Anthony List.

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