Bernie Sanders is not a friend of Wall St -- but he has fans there
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to the media after the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami. (Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders likes to take aim at Wall Street and everything it represents -- big money, big power. But even in the world of New York finance, he has supporters.


The self-described "democratic socialist" is riding high in the polls -- the latest national average offered by RealClearPolitics puts him a full 10 points in front of former vice president Joe Biden at 27.8 percent.

And some pundits are saying that if the 78-year-old senator from Vermont continues to do well, he might have an insurmountable lead in terms of delegates by Super Tuesday on March 3.

That would give him the right to take on Republican incumbent Donald Trump in November.

Sanders' plans to hike taxes on the wealthy and tighten government controls of the banking and finance sectors have certainly spooked New York's finance leaders.

Former Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein has said Sanders is "as polarizing as Trump," and billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman has called Sanders a "communist" who poses a bigger threat to the markets than the deadly new coronavirus epidemic.

But others in the finance industry have welcomed the possibility of a Sanders presidency with enthusiasm.

"I'm not Lloyd Blankfein -- I work in a family owned business, I'm a small business guy. I see the health insurance bill every month," said Wade Black, a founding member of Scarsdale Equities, an investment group.

Political diversity on Wall Street

The 45-year-old Black -- who spoke to AFP at his office in Rockefeller Center in the heart of Manhattan -- is a card-carrying Democrat who says he has moved farther left with age.

And he believes that Wall Street is not as conservative as political legend would have it.

"A lot of people who work on Wall Street are just salaried -- they're not overcompensated hedge fund managers. There are clerks and admin people," Black said.

"I'd be shocked if they didn't reflect somewhat of the diversity of the political opinion that America has."

That opinion is shared by Dan Alpert, a 61-year-old co-founder of the New York investment bank Westwood Capital.

"Wall Street has become younger. You don't know what the young people are really thinking because they can't talk -- they're muzzled," Alpert said.

"And those people who are left who are older are generally in the C suite or near C suite level and just humming the party line."

Alpert thinks that income inequality in America has helped Sanders' underlying campaign platform to resonate, even in the world of finance.

There are no polls that would indicate the percentage of those in banking and finance who support Sanders.

But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks donations made by individuals and political action committees of $200 or more, Sanders has received $1.7 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors since he launched his 2020 campaign.

Out of a total of $108 million, it's not an insignificant amount, though it pales in comparison to the $4.4 million raised from the sectors by Indiana moderate Pete Buttigieg, or the $4.1 million raked in by Biden.

Trump has taken in $2.7 million from the same sectors.

However, Sanders has taken in virtually nothing from hedge funds, private investment groups or venture capital funds -- he brags that most of his campaign is funded by small-time individual donors.

Black says he sent about $400 to the Sanders campaign, and did it when he felt the senator was unfairly attacked.

Is he a threat to markets?

While Sanders regularly criticizes Wall Street and the world of high finance, bemoaning the whims of the "one percent" and championing the other 99 percent of Americans, his backers in the sector don't feel targeted.

"He's talking about investment banking firms, the Goldmans and Bank of America of the world. They wield incredible power, more than they did in 2008" at the time of the global financial crisis, says Black.

Sanders' platform calls for dismantling banks that are "too big to fail" and to end what he calls impunity for their leaders.

For several American billionaires, these proposed reforms and others along the same lines could spark a market crash if Sanders wins the White House and makes good on his promises.

"They said the same thing about Trump and the market actually did fall the day after the election -- and then turned around," Alpert says, calling the fears about Sanders "preposterous."