Edwards, Van Hollen continue to battle for anti-Wall Street cred

Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna F. Edwards
Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna F. Edwards (Baltimore Sun)

WASHINGTON -- For months the two candidates running for Senate in Maryland have sought to distance themselves from a banking industry that remains deeply unpopular in the years since the foreclosure crisis.

Rep. Donna Edwards has repeatedly labeled her opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a "Wall Street Democrat." Van Hollen has responded by pointing to a flurry of bills he has proposed to tighten tax loopholes and apply tougher regulations on the financial sector.


In its latest effort to question Van Hollen's record on the issue, the Edwards campaign took aim Thursday at about $30,000 in political contributions he received from a banking consultant, a company that has faced scrutiny for its role in the foreclosure crisis.

Leaders of Promontory Financial Group, a Washington-based firm, donated $28,850 to Van Hollen this year, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. The company and other consultants faced questions for receiving billions from banks to review the claims of unfair treatment from evicted mortgage holders.


"Marylanders are tired of Washington politicians like Congressman Van Hollen who shake their fist at Wall Street with one hand while taking their money with the other," Edwards spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "Donna's winning in polls precisely because she's the only progressive fighter in this race who will...say 'no' to Wall Street banks."

The contributions to Van Hollen represent less than 1 percent of the money he raised since the beginning of March. Many other Democrats, meanwhile, have also received money from the firm, including former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, who helped craft the 2010 Dodd-Frank banking law.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, arguably the nation's highest-profile critic of Wall Street, received a small donation from an employee at the firm.

Van Hollen -- who is airing a television ad in Baltimore that touts his effort to "end [Republicans'] special deals for Wall Street" -- has pushed back on the idea that he has any ties to the financial sector because of the donations.

Aides have noted several anti-industry bills he has drafted, such as a 0.1 percent fee on stock trades that has been embraced by liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

"When it came time to reform Wall Street and help his constituents who were facing foreclosure, Chris led the fight," Van Hollen campaign manager Sheila O'Connell said in a statement. "Congresswoman Edwards was nowhere to be found on this issue until election season."

The Senate Banking Committee questioned officials at Promontory and also PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte & Touche at a 2013 hearing. While the companies have faced criticism for the costly reviews -- which were ultimately scrapped -- lawmakers seemed mostly focused on a government-created system that allowed private consultants to act as regulators of the same banks that were paying their consultant fees.

That system, created by federal regulators, was sharply criticized by auditors. Media reports, based on internal documents and whistle blowers, suggested the banks were leaning on consultants to influence the outcome of the reviews.

Edwards, of Prince George's County, and Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, are running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 2017.

Neither candidate has received significant campaign cash from the banking industry, and their positions on financial regulation appear to be broadly similar. Both supported the Dodd-Frank regulations in 2010, for instance, and both voted against a bill in April that would have modified how those regulations treat some mortgages.

Edwards vowed in April not to take money from "Wall Street banks" in her campaign for Senate. Van Hollen, who has raised significantly more money overall, did not respond to that pledge publicly -- though that may have as much to do with a political decision to not react to an opponent as anything to do with Wall Street.

Neither campaign has taken from political action committees associated with Wall Street. Both have taken individual contributions from those with ties to the financial sector.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun