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Published — February 20, 2015 Updated — Today at 4:08 pm EST

HSBC’s political committee goes dark in days before Swiss Leaks scandal

Typically active PAC made no contributions in January

Introduction

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

The lack of activity immediately preceded revelations this month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, that HSBC’s operation in Switzerland apparently assisted customers in hiding their money from tax authorities, while serving other clients with demonstrated connections to arms trafficking, conflict diamonds and bribery.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reporters 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 or other political committees 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.

Recipients of HSBC North America PAC’s generosity last year were the campaigns or PACs of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y. and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

HSBC’s PAC also contributed $1,000 in September to the re-election campaign of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whom a federal grand jury on Thursday indicted on fraud and extortion charges.

The PAC reported it had more than $776,000 cash on hand at the end of January, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission.

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.

During 2014, HSBC employed 11 federally registered lobbyists, including 10 who have previously worked for the federal government in some capacity, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Since the revelations this month of HSBC’s activities, 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.

Meanwhile, British political columnist Peter Oborne resigned from the Daily Telegraph after accusing the newspaper of deliberately surpressing stories about HSBC, which had been a major advertiser.

HSBC, for its part, issued a formal apology via full-page newspaper ads in the United Kingdom.

Hamish Boland-Rudder and Gerard Ryle contributed to this report.

Read more in Federal Politics

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