GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has earned as much as $8 million on Wall Street since he left Congress a decade ago, and again is relying on Wall Street friends and former colleagues to help finance his current race, records and interviews show.
After losing a U.S. Senate race to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lazio in 2001 went to work on Wall Street, where aides confirmed he has earned about $1 million a year. In his last full year in Congress, Lazio earned $141,000.
Now, Lazio's ties to Wall Street and his congressional votes to deregulate the nation's banking system - a bill that critics say helped lead to the nation's recent financial crisis - are an issue in his battle for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.
In 2004, Lazio earned more than $900,000 as president of the Financial Services Forum, a then-Manhattan-based not-for-profit organized by several top Wall Street chief executives.
Lazio then went to work as a top lobbyist and executive for JPMorgan Chase. While he hasn't disclosed all his finances, Lazio confirmed that in 2008 and 2009 - a period in which the firm accepted $25 billion in federal bailout money - he earned a total of $2.1 million in salary and bonuses.
Lazio's camp confirmed that, all told, Lazio earned some $8 million working on Wall Street.
Contacts coming through
Campaign finance records show that the contacts and friends Lazio made in those years are coming through for him as he seeks the GOP nomination for governor.
Lazio had raised a total of $1.1 million as of Jan. 15, from donors including his former JPMorgan boss, William B. Harrison; ex- Goldman Sachs chief John C. Whitehead; and from JPMorgan's political action committee.
Lewis Ranieri, a well-known Wall Street figure who once championed now much-criticized mortgage-backed securities, has given $30,000 to Lazio so far, according to the January filings, the most recent available.
Robert L. Mercer, an executive at Long Island hedge fund Renaissance Technologies in Stony Brook, along with other family members contributed a total of more than $250,000. While Mercer declined to comment, Lazio spokesman Barney Keller described the family as "Long Island residents who believe Albany needs sweeping and fundamental change, so they're supporting Rick Lazio for governor."
His fundraising in the governor's race mirrors his money-raising in his unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2000.
That year, for instance, Lazio exceeded both presidential candidates Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in total contributions from the political action committee of Bear Stearns, then a Wall Street tiger that collapsed in the recent financial crisis.
Election rivals see opening
In the governor's race, both Levy and Paladino are trying to make an issue of Lazio's continuing ties to Wall Street. They argue that Lazio's background would hobble him against State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the likely Democratic nominee for governor.
Levy said Lazio's "culpability" for the banking collapse "eviscerates the Republican high ground" - particularly in any GOP attacks on Cuomo's oversight of federally backed mortgage loans as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Clinton administration.
"Lazio is not the messenger to talk about Andrew Cuomo's dirty hands because he has dirty hands himself," said Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo, referring to Cuomo's HUD tenure. "A lot of people are angry because they've lost so much in their 401(k)s and Rick has no credibility" to address these issues. Cuomo has declined to respond to the charge.
Keller said Lazio is proud of his work for JPMorgan - from which he is on a leave of absence to run for governor - and criticized Levy for "an almost deranged obsession" with Lazio's vote to support banking deregulation in 1999.
Deregulation "passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, including every single Republican member of New York's congressional delegation," Keller said. "Steve Levy obviously keeps forgetting what party he wants to be a member of."
Top contributors to Rick Lazio's 2010 campaign for governor:
1. Robert L. Mercer, Renaissance Technologies executive and four other family members: $250,000
2. Robert H. Book, Wall Street investor, and family: $100,000
3. Wall Street investing firm Hastings Capital Group and owners: $52,000
4. Lewis Ranieri, Wall Street banking and real estate investor: $30,000
5. J.P. Morgan Chase, including former chief executive William B. Harrison: $12,500
Top contributors to Lazio's 2000 campaign for U.S. Senate:
1. Goldman Sachs: $182,800
2. Morgan Stanley: $139,450
3. Citigroup Inc.: $127,390
4. JPMorgan Chase & Co: $122,361
5. Bear Stearns: $112,300
Sources: New York State Board of Elections; Center for Responsive Politics; Federal Election Commission records