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With just one branch and a small staff, Chain Bridge Bank has the unassuming feel of a local business. But the $230 million Beltway depository founded by ex-Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) is fast becoming the preferred bank of the Republican Party.
The presidential campaigns for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have accounts there, as do dozens of prominent political action committees run by Republican heavy hitters such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Prominent conservative groups such as American Crossroads and the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., have also banked there.
Though the bank is nonpartisan and has had among its clients the Democratic Blue Dog PAC, many of its founders and leaders move in Republican fundraising circles and draw political clients from them. It's a business model that has worked: Chain Bridge's earnings were up 48 percent last year from the year prior, according to Marketwire.
"Certainly all of us have worked hard to get the business of our friends and associates," said Fitzgerald, who left Congress after a single term in 2005 and founded the bank two years later. He serves as chairman of Chain Bridge.
Fitzgerald and other employees of the bank, including Executive Vice President John Vogt, gave more than $208,000 to the campaigns of Republican candidates and to conservative organizations and PACs since 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Fitzgerald and Vogt have also publicly supported the Romney presidential campaign, which has an account at the bank.
Many of Chain Bridge's advisory board members are also part of the political scene. Some are lobbyists, and others run trade associations. Expertise in those areas helps the bank understand customers' needs, Vogt said.
"We know inherently what they are and how they operate," he said. Vogt, a former lobbyist, added that he brought to the bank a "Rolodex of 30 years downtown."
The bank's business model could create a campaign finance minefield. Federal regulations prevent banks from offering to political accounts the kind of discount fees or low interest rates they may offer to lure big corporate accounts.
"If you're giving a candidate a special deal ... the result could be found to be making a prohibited contribution to the campaigns," said Lawrence Noble, a campaign finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps.
Fitzgerald and Vogt said Chain Bridge is careful not to give anyone special treatment. They also point out that the bank has had rival candidates as customers at the same time. During the Virginia gubernatorial election of 2009, Chain Bridge managed the accounts of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and Democratic primary contender Terry McAuliffe.
Vogt also noted with pride that the Perry campaign chose Chain Bridge despite Vogt and Fitzgerald's support for Romney.
"They wanted to bank here for their presidential campaign anyway, because they acknowledge that we are ready for prime time," Vogt said.