McCaskill’s Donor at the Fed

Claire McCaskill has suggested that she will oppose the Fed audit admendment. This represents a flip-flop, as the Senator from Missouri voted for the Fed audit back in April.

One possible explanation for the shift: one of McCaskill’s top donors is Steven H Lipstein, chair of the St Louis Federal Reserve. Lipstein has given McCaskill and her committees $16,000 since she first ran for the Senate in 2006, including $11,200 for that campaign, the sort of outrageous sum that illustrates the complete meaninglessness of campaign finance limits. In February 2010, he gave her $4800, maxing out to both her primary and general accounts. His wife, Susan Lipstein, donated $2100 to McCaskill during her 2006 campaign.

Lipstein became chair of the St Louis Fed in January, 2009. Though he is also the CEO of a major nonprofit hospital system, BJC Healthcare, Lipstein suggested to the St Louis Globe-Mail in March that the financial industry is a more significant concern for him than healthcare:

Lipstein, who is also chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis board of directors, doesn’t see the health care bill as a major drain on the economy. If the state can come up with $200 million by 2017-18 it may be in line for an infusion of $2 billion in federal money, he said. “I’m more worried about the financial sector than the impact of the health care bill,” he said. (emphasis mine)

The brother of Rahm Emanuel, entertainment lawyer Ariel Emanuel, also maxed out to McCaskill’s accounts on February 28. Rahm Emanuel is reportedly leading the fight against the Fed Audit.

It’s unclear if these contributions are connected or if they played a role in swaying McCaskill. President Obama was in St Louis for a fundraiser with McCaskill two weeks later, so an invitation for that may have spurred them to donate.

Regardless, the St Louis Fed is clearly influencing McCaskill’s position on the Fed audit. Her recent criticism of the amendment echoes the words of St Louis Fed President James Bullard, who is on the Federal Open Market Committee. In an interview with the Financial Times on May 1st, Bullard called the audit “blatant political meddling in monetary policy.”

The Financial Times called Bullard’s remarks “unusually outspoken comments” from a member of the open market committee.

McCaskill also pointed to the political issues with a Fed audit:

“I’m looking at it. But I think it may have more potential to politicize the Fed than it does opportunity to really change anything that average Americans are looking for.”

All this suggests that the Fed has developed a regional strategy to target key Senators as the Fed audit comes up for vote. Will it work? Given current levels of anti-Wall Street sentiment, it looks like it could be a tough fight. But luckily for the Federal Reserve, McCaskill has taken money from the right people.

Update: I took out a reference to McCaskill donor Jeffrey T Fort, who maxed out to her accounts on the same day as Emanuel and Lipstein. Fort lives a few blocks from Lipstein, but apparently the neighborhood is quite dense with wealthy donors, so it’s hard to tell if the contributions are at all connected.