Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) posted quarterly profit topped analyst estimates Tuesday, putting a spotlight once again on the institution at the center of a battle between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her rival, Bernie Sanders, over speeches she gave to the giant investment bank and its clients.
Sanders has demanded that Clinton release transcripts of the paid speeches Clinton gave at Goldman Sachs, including one she made in October 2013 to bankers at a summit in Arizona for a $225,000 fee. Sanders has made the speeches and payments to Clinton a key part of his stump speeches and attacks on Clinton in Democratic debates.
Although there is no indication that Clinton will release her speeches any time soon, it's clear that making those transcripts public would help Sanders in his campaign for the Democratic nomination.
"You have to assume that because Sanders has addressed this so much, there is nothing good in there for her," says Cornelius Hurley, director of the Center for Finance, Law & Policy, Boston University. "If they were benign, she would have released them by now. This is her Achilles heel, and Sanders is killing her for it. Without Sanders she would be ignoring it."
At a minimum, some observers have contended, the speeches' details will show a coziness between Clinton and Goldman Sachs managers that many voters will be uncomfortable with in light of the 2008 financial crisis and the long-lasting harm it inflicted on the economy. Sanders' testy relations with Wall Street will make him look good by comparison, they have said.
Clinton has sought to defend herself, most recently in the Democratic primary debate last week, when she argued that Sanders can't provide any examples of her being influenced by Wall Street money. In addition, a Goldman spokesman defended Clinton's speeches, noting in a statement that the firm hosts "hundreds of conferences around the world for its clients" and it wants speakers that will "interest its clients."
Nevertheless, questions about the speech come as the two candidates face off Tuesday in the crucial New York Democratic primary, with Clinton being a clear favorite to win the state.
Hurley argues that the only question is the extent to which releasing speeches' details would help Sanders in the upcoming primaries. "You're not going to take a quarter of million dollars to do a speech and tell truth to power," Hurley says. "It could help him win states down the road."
In February, Politico and other media outlets quoted attendees at the 2013 Arizona speech who said Clinton glowingly praised the bank's success raising capital and creating jobs. In addition, the report noted that Clinton said it was worth taking a look at the Dodd-Frank Act, which was written in the wake of the crisis, to see what was working and what wasn't. The law was intended to rein in the riskiest behaviors of the big Wall Street banks. As a whole, large banks have chafed under some of its restrictions.
Small-bank lobbyists in Washington contend that the candidates and public would not be discussing the speeches if Sanders had not pointed them out repeatedly. "Certainly Republicans have not brought up the issue of too-big-to-fail banks much," says one community-bank lobbyist in Washington.
He adds that when Clinton said in 2013 she wanted to take a look at what was and wasn't working, she probably was thinking along the lines of fixing "certain things that were pro-Goldman Sachs." An academic who has been following the campaign says that in 2013 Clinton likely saw that a lot of bank money was going to Republican candidates and that she needed to stem that tide. "She wasn't going to get those funds by touting the glories of Dodd-Frank," he adds.
In addition, Bert Ely, an analyst at Ely & Co. in Alexandria, Va., contends that a lack of transparency around those speeches could hurt Clinton in the general election if she, as many expect, becomes the Democratic candidate. "Not only would the transcripts of Hillary's talks at the Goldman Sachs conferences be very embarrassing for her vis-à-vis Bernie, but also they could be very embarrassing for her in the general election," Ely says. "It's hard to believe that she will not be forced at some point to release those transcripts."
In addition, Goldman Sachs received a mixed message from regulators last week about its so-called living will, which it has to produce based on the post-crisis Dodd-Frank Act and explain how the institution would unwind itself in bankruptcy without wreaking havoc on the economy. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. contended that Goldman's living will wasn't credible, while the agency's counterpart, the Federal Reserve, maintained only that its plan exhibited weakness. As a result, the bank fared better that five other big banks, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) , that received failing grades from both agencies. During the debate last week, Clinton said she would break up big banks if they continued to fail living wills. Sanders said he doesn't need Dodd-Frank to explain that we need to break up the banks. Observers in Washington argue that regulators are likely to approve the failing banks by an October 1 deadline.
"He's [Sanders is] right to be skeptical of her comments," says the community-bank lobbyist. "There is so much public pressure and focus on this, that the big banks will do enough to fix their living wills by the deadline to appease regulators, because there is so much representational risk if they don't."