Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is the lead sponsor of an amendment to break up big banks that industry lobbyists are working to kill, but that isn't stopping him from raising campaign funds from them.
On Wednesday, Friends of Sherrod Brown held a $1,000 a plate fundraiser at Young Chow restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, with bankers and their representatives among those invited. While some invitees said the fundraiser was nothing unusual, a representative of one bank asked to attend suggested the invite raised eyebrows because it came a day before Brown and other Democrats offered an amendment to the financial regulatory bill that imposes strict size restrictions on banks, limiting them from holding no more than 10 percent of the country's deposits.
"You're kidding right?" Brown said when asked about such concerns. "I don't even get that. My amendment has been planned for some time. I introduced a bill before the amendment. I don't care what they do, if they come or not. Clearly the banks don't like my amendment. They don't like much of this bill that I've worked on. So that doesn't change."
He went on to explain: "We send out requests for contributions all the time. And I don't know who is on the list each time we send them out. And people can come or not. It's up to them. I don't think anybody that's watched me knows that I believe what I do and keep fighting for it and I think the Wall Street banks overreached."
The tiff between Brown and the banking industry did not get better Thursday when he met with members of the Ohio Bankers League. Members questioned him about the ramifications of his amendment and the Senate bill, which would force large banks to spin off their derivatives' operation. They raised concerns the measure would trigger job losses in a state with an 11 percent unemployment rate.
One banker was shocked when Brown said: "That's going to happen over time."
Spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak disputed that Brown was referring to job losses, but rather the change that large bank operations would undergo as a result of his amendment. Dubyak said the senator is more concerned that smaller community banks have a chance to compete with their Wall Street brethren.
"Sen. Brown is working for community banks and banks in Ohio and making sure they can compete with the big banks," she said. "That's what he is working on, and that is not popular with the big banks."
But the Ohio banker noted that many of those jobs come from large banks, which have operation centers located throughout the Buckeye State.
At the end of 2009, Ohio had 255 individual banks and thrifts that employed 323,560 people, according to the league, with JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bank having major operations located there.
This article appears in the May 1, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.