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January 1, 1998

Financial War Chest for Washington's Political Dogfight:STA's Political Action Committeeby

By John A. Byrne

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  • Financial War Chest for Washington's Political Dogfight:STA's Political Action Committeeby

At the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, an official from Sherwood Securities personally active in the Grand Old Party made an astonishing discovery a lobbyist for American florists was circling delegates with a million dollar smile. Oh, boy.

Dennis Marino, president of the Jersey City-based market maker, does not tell the story in flowery tones, but in a voice filled with horror at the thought of how another group traders are amateurs of checkbook diplomacy inside Washington's corridors of power.

Next time the government repeals some special tax on a bunch of red roses, perhaps that million-dollar smile is the reason. But Marino is not amused and continues his story:

"He [the official] was having drinks and ran into a young lady, the lobbyist for American florists. They chatted awhile and she told him how the florists raised one million dollars in political contributions in the previous twelve months. One million dollars."

Marino mentions this almost religiously, he says, whenever he talks to traders about political action committees (PAC), and for good reason he's now chairman of the Security Traders Association's fledging PAC, the STA Political Action Committee (STAPAC). STA President John Tognino and Laura Cooley are STAPAC's president and treasurer, respectively. (Cooley serves as a strategic consultant to the STA.)

Harnessing Support

Tognino credits Marino for harnessing support among STA members. "When Dennis became STA chairman, one of his priorities was starting a PAC. He said enough was enough, we needed to be active in Washington," Tognino said, referring to Marino's 12-month stint as STA chairman that ended last October.

Marino's drive initially resulted in the formation of a committee to look at the business of PACs. The committee was headed by Andy Brooks, an activist on the STA's Institutional Committee and head of trading at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore.

Now just twelve-months old, STAPAC has a serious purpose, and that is to support congressional candidates that the STA believes hold a balanced view on securities market-structure and policy.

So far, STAPAC has raised a little more than $100,000, contributing some of that money in turn to five Democrats and four Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The five Democrats are Rep. Tom Manton (D-N.Y.); Rep. John Dingle (D-Mich.); Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio); Rep. Dianna DeGette (D-Colo.); and Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa). The four on the Republican side are Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.); Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas); Rep. Rick White (R-Wash.); Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio); and Rep. Robert Bennett (R-Ohio).

"It was a bit funny, and yet it was a bit frightening," said Marino of the San Diego epiphany. "When you think about it, if an industry like the florists believes it is important enough to have political representation and can raise one million dollars, it shows how anemic our efforts have been in this business."

Highly Respected

Marino is one of the most highly-respected executives in the Wall Street equity-trading business, and he speaks like he is fighting for the lives of his professional colleagues, and maybe he is.