Meet the Wall Street Banker Backing Bernie Sanders

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September 18, 2015: Bernie Sanders at a NYC fundraiser.
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Click on the audio player above to hear the full interview.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hasn’t made too many friends on Wall Street, probably because he makes statements like this on programs like CNN's "State of the Union":

"I think that the business model of Wall Street is fraud. I think these guys drove us into the worst economic downturn in the history of America. I think they're at it again.”

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have put forth plans to reform Wall Street. Clinton would give federal regulators more power to break up large financial firms and impose a new tax on high-frequency trading. Bernie Sanders wants to break up "too big to fail" banks and bring back the Glass-Steagall act.

If you follow the money, you’ll see that Sanders has raised about $47,000 from the financial industry—a far cry from the nearly $2 million Clinton has raised from Wall Street bankers.

One banker who has contributed to Bernie Sanders is Paul Ryan, a partner at Hayfield Financial, a firm that advises private equity and hedge funds. He's been on Wall Street for 30 years and says the financial system has become so complex, so manipulated, and corrupt that only Bernie Sanders can save it.

“The whole understanding of Wall Street that I have comes from Judge Brandeis [who said], ‘Sunlight is the greatest of disinfectants,’ something that we seem to have forgotten,” Ryan says. “Wall Street has gotten dark and complex in the last 50 years. There’s disintermediation of the banks, and everything that was clear and understood we’ve now murked up.”

The financial industry is consciously growing darker and darker, Ryan argues, adding that the banking sector is growing even more complicated.

“More than size, complexity is the problem,” he says. “Glass-Steagall separates things and makes things less complex. When you mix the investment bank and the shadow economy with the commercial bank, that’s a real complicated thing. I dare say—and I’m reasonably educated; went to law school, majored in economics, and worked in a bank—I’m hard pressed to know what Goldman Sachs or CitiBank actually does. And I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I just can’t figure out what they’re doing right now.”

Unlike his peers in New York’s financial district, Ryan welcomes Sanders’ plan to get aggressive with with large banks.

“Bernie Sanders swinging the meat axe saying, ‘Hey, let’s just break it all up,’ that’s not the gradualism that Hillary’s saying right now,” he says. “She’s in bed with these guys. I don’t think she’s going to really make the changes—not with her donor base—and they really need to happen.”

Ryan says that he and others in the financial industry were surprised as they watched the 2008 financial collapse unfold from the sidelines, and he doesn’t want to see it happen again.

“Nobody knew what the hell was going on,” he says. “When you see things like AIG and some of these institutions, they’re just so complicated. It’s kind of the corollary to Occam's razor—the explanation that’s simplest tends to be most true—I think the corollary, at least in the financial world, is that which is most complex is probably fraudulent.”

Ryan says Bernie Sanders hasn’t changed his stance about Wall Street, rather he believes the message being put forth by the candidate reflects his own thinking as a financial industry insider.

“What America likes and what America needs may be two different things,” he says. “But I would like to see him run hard.”