Elizabeth Warren’s Wall Street Money Machine
She doesn’t rely on Wall Street bankers; she relies on Wall Street lawyers.

Elizabeth Warren


Kevin D. Williamson

Elizabeth Warren has called Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown the “poster boy for Goldman Sachs.” Her aide Alethea Harney had this to say: “Unlike with Scott Brown, middle-class families won’t have to wonder whether Elizabeth Warren will choose them over Wall Street.” And why might Scott Brown, who does not have particularly deep ties to Wall Street, choose distant financiers over the voters in his backyard? The answer, Professor Warren says, is filthy lucre, i.e. campaign donations. “The Wall Street guys have been meeting aggressively to say, ‘How many different ways can we fund Scott Brown to make sure Elizabeth Warren does not go to the United States Senate?’” she has charged. A Massachusetts Democratic spokesman, Kevin Franck, made a similar charge: “It’s no surprise that Wall Street and the big banks continue to finance Scott Brown’s campaign, because he continues to put their interests first, ahead of middle-class Massachusetts families.”

Senator Brown shares with President Barack Obama the distinction of being a recipient of very generous campaign donations from Goldman Sachs, his third-largest contributor behind two Massachusetts mainstays: Boston-based Fidelity and Boston-based Liberty Mutual. If these donations make Senator Brown the “poster child for Goldman Sachs,” then we must think of a comparable epithet for Professor Warren, whose campaign also takes in a great deal of money from Wall Street — or, in the interest of more precise metonymy, from the sewers beneath Wall Street. I am in general not much of an admirer of Wall Street bankers, but the bankers are scholars and gentlemen compared to Wall Street lawyers, who combine the rapacity and cleverness of the financier with the paid-by-the-hour-plus-a percentage complacency associated with the legal profession. With apologies to Matt Taibbi, Wall Street lawyers are the sort of people who give vampire squids a bad name.

If she wants to play the guilt-by-association game, Professor Warren should begin by quitting her $350,000-a-year job at Harvard, where she is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law. That chair was endowed in memory of Mr. Gottlieb by the law firm he founded, the high-powered Cleary Gottlieb, which is not primarily in the business of helping middle-class Americans secure their legal interests against the dreaded 1 Percent. Instead, these lawyers make their living in part by helping multinational banks that profited from the Bernie Madoff fraud avoid paying compensation to Madoff victims. Professor Warren, a critic of cozy ties between regulators and industry, surely will be fascinated to learn that in the interest of maximizing its expertise in the finer points of such securities law, the firm went so far as to hire the former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission — a man who resigned from the SEC after being sued by Madoff victims over $1.5 million in Madoff money that ended up in his pockets and those of his siblings. The SEC lawyer and his siblings later turned the money over to Madoff victims in a settlement. 

In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that there are all sorts of reasons that Cleary Gottlieb might want to write a great big check to endow a chair at Harvard, a gift that will long outlast Professor Warren’s tenure. But there are good-faith reasons that firms — even Goldman Sachs — make political donations, too. Imagine that Scott Brown held a lifelong fellowship endowed by the Koch brothers — can you begin to imagine the Klaxons of panic that fact would raise on the left? 

Endowing a professorship is a very different thing from making a campaign donation, it is true. The relationship is in some ways more intimate: Election cycles come and go, but Cleary Gottlieb’s profits funded the professorship that pays Elizabeth Warren’s salary and has done so for years. Wall Street lawyer money doesn’t just help pay for Professor Warren’s campaign commercials — it puts food on her table and gas in her tank, maintains her multimillion-dollar home, and keeps her in an Ivy League sinecure on flexible enough terms that she can spend her day running for political office rather than, to mention one possibility, teaching law.

But Cleary Gottlieb’s beneficence is not limited to Ivy League law schools. At least one lawyer in the firm has donated to the Warren campaign, and Cleary Gottlieb has an apparent interest in Massachusetts Democrats: It was a very generous benefactor of John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Beyond that donation to the Warren campaign proper, the firm’s relationship with Democrats is much deeper: Two of its attorneys by themselves have given more than $60,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which will of course help Professor Warren. One gave another $9,200 to the DSCC, another gave $10,000 to the DNC Services Corp. The firm donates to the abortion fanatics at Emily’s List, which Catholic Massachusetts might note is Professor Warren’s largest single contributor, and the firm has made very generous contributions to the campaigns of such notable Democrats as Barack Obama, Kirsten Gillibrand, Al Franken, Mark Warner, and others. (Republicans? I found two donations to Mitt Romney. Check out the data yourself, if you’re so inclined.)