HSBC US committee takes month off political donations

In the month prior to Swiss Leaks, the bank’s typically active U.S. political committee made no contributions.

HSBC branch in New York.

HSBC North America's political action committee stopped donating money to U.S. politicians in the weeks before Swiss Leaks revelations rocked its worldwide operations, a new financial filing indicates.

The lack of activity immediately preceded revelations this month by ICIJ and its media partners that HSBC's operation in Switzerland apparently assisted customers in sheltering their money from tax authorities, while serving other clients with demonstrated connections to arms trafficking, conflict diamonds and bribery. 

ICIJ and its partners first informed HSBC about the nature of its investigation in early January.

It's unclear whether the HSBC PAC's lack of activity in early 2015 is related to the ICIJ report, and HSBC representatives declined to comment about the PAC's activity. 

In recent years, several high-profile, corporate PACs — JPMorganChase, BP, Goldman Sachs and News Corp. among them — froze their political giving in the midst of unflattering attention. Each time, the PACs eventually began making political contributions again.

HSBC North America's PAC rarely goes a month without making a political contribution, and it has donated to candidates in six of the seven Januarys following a national election — January 2013 being the exception, federal records show.

During 2014 alone, HSBC's PAC spent more than a quarter-million dollars on politics, including nearly $100,000 worth of contributions to state- and federal-level politicians, according to federal records.

Beyond campaign contributions, HSBC maintains a strong lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., having spent between $2 million and $4 million each year for the past decade trying to influence lawmakers and government agencies, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Since the Swiss Leaks revelations this month, government authorities in various countries have taken swift action. Swiss prosecutors, for example, opened a criminal investigation against HSBC Private Bank and raided the bank’s Geneva offices seeking evidence of “aggravated money-laundering.”

Some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about HSBC's actions, with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week delaying a nomination vote on Loretta Lynch to become U.S. attorney general amid questions about how she handled a money laundering prosecution of HSBC in 2012.

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