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Clinton-Sanders exchange over campaign finance turns personal

An exchange between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over campaign contributions turned personal at Saturday’s Democratic debate.

DES MOINES, Iowa – An exchange over campaign contributions turned personal at Saturday’s Democratic debate after Bernie Sanders suggested Hillary Clinton had done Wall Street’s bidding in exchange for taking millions in campaign contributions from banks and financial institutions. Clinton, a former New York senator, said she had worked to rebuild Wall Street in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and pointedly accused Sanders of undermining her character.

“He has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity," Clinton said, after Sanders said financial institutions “know what they’re going to get” in exchange for their campaign contributions.

“Why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that,” Sanders said. 

Clinton’s close relationship with Wall Street, both in the Senate and two presidential campaigns, has been a flash point of criticism for her rivals and many voters. Polls show many Americans believe that financial institutions have too much power, and Sanders’ rise has been largely fueled by his pledge to reduce those institutions’ impact on the economy and politics. Clinton, in turn, has had to defend her Wall Street ties amid concerns that she has little in common with many ordinary Americans.

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Responding to Sanders, Clinton noted that most of her contributors were small donors and said, to loud applause, that 60 percent were women. She said her ties to Wall Street were largely focused on helping that part of the city recover after the 9/11 attacks.

“I represented New York and represented New York on 9/11. Where Wall Street is," Clinton said.  "It was a way to rebuke the terrorists who attacked our country."

Sanders’ campaign aides cast shade on that assertion, filling reporters’ inboxes with unflattering details on Clinton’s contributors. One pointed to the fact that Citigroup is the largest donor to Clinton’s campaigns since 1999, giving $824,000. It was followed by Goldman Sachs, lobby firm DLA Piper, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley. 

In another email, coming as the candidates debated drug companies, the campaign pointed to a Boston Globe report detailing her financial support from those groups.

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Clinton rolled out a multi-faceted Wall Street plan last month that would punish individuals in the market, put limits on high frequency trading, and strengthen the so-called Volker Rule, along with regulating other aspects of the financial industry outside of traditional banks. Her campaign claims it casts a wider net than Sanders’ and O’Malley’s plans. Sanders, in turn, has pledged to restore the Glass-Stegall Act, which was created to separate commercial and investment banking and which was repealed in 1999 during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Before the Wall Street exchange, Clinton and Sanders expressed differences over the minimum wage. Sanders doubled down on his pledge to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, while Clinton said she supported a $12 federal minimum that could then be pushed higher by states and localities, as some have already started to do.