New capitol bank aims to serve political community

The Park Tower at 980 9th St. is one of the hubs of political power in Sacramento. The building houses the Department of Business, Transportation and Housing, California Strategies, and of course, the Capitol Weekly. The building’s newest tenant is Golden Pacific Bank, a new bank aimed at serving politics-related businesses with a familiar cast of characters on its board of directors.          

The bank boasts a board of directors stocked with some major political players from the third house. In fact, the bank’s board of directors reads more like a political action committee leadership list than a typical bank leadership roster.

“We’re really proud,” said Kirk Dowdell, Golden Pacific’s CEO. Dowdell says the bank’s primary focus is on providing the capital necessary for small businesses to develop and stay afloat. Reaching beyond the traditional idea of “small business,” the bank is also equipped to serve the political industry.  

Political consultant Richard Claussen is one of a few influential names on the Golden Pacific Bancorp board of directors’ roster. Claussen is a founder of the political advocacy firm Goddard Claussen, with offices in Sacramento, Roseville, and Washington D.C. While Goddard Claussen is not technically a lobbying firm, the name is well-known throughout Capitol culture for its nearly historic influence on public policy.

Alongside Claussen on the bank’s board are California Business Roundtable CEO William Hauck and California Chamber of Commerce CEO Allan Zaremberg. Both the Roundtable and CalChamber have a great deal of political clout within the Capitol, influencing and overseeing just about all public policy that affects California commerce.

Hauck and Zaremberg have held executive positions in state government – working as executive staff for former governor Pete Wilson. Hauck was Wilson’s deputy chief of staff, among other capitol positions for various assembly speakers. Zaremberg was chief legislative advisor for both Wilson and former governor George Deukmejian.  

Others who served on the bank’s board include political consultant Donna Lucas and Cassandra Pye, both former Schwarzenegger officials who no longer serve in the administration or on the bank’s board.

Dowdell is quick to stress that GP is “not a political bank.” He said the political industry is simply another niche market within the community that the bank wants to serve. He added that the lobbying and PR firms involved in campaign management are just other small businesses in need of capital and custom-tailored financial solutions, two things Golden Pacific has to offer.

“We want to be the bank of choice in each of our markets,” said Dowdell.

Dowdell, along with bank’s public relations manager Chris Holben, said there’s simply no wiggle room for preferential treatment or conflicts of any kind.

“All the board members are fully vetted…there are extensive background checks,” said Dowdell. The process of approving each individual board member can take over six months, he noted.

William Hauck is quick to verify that. He said the process was exhaustive, and laughed at the suggestion of a conflict of interest or a lack of transparency. The packet outlining the full approval procedure is the weighty equivalent of an encyclopedia. Plus, said Hauck, his involvement in the actual banking process is minimal.  

“I’ve never even made a deposit,” said Hauck. The reason he joined the board? “It was just a good investment.” He’s leaving the big decisions to the management.

The bank struggled to open its doors back in 2008, as the industry was seemingly in freefall. Banks were closing while others were being bailed out by the federal government. Getting FDIC to insure the bank, which delayed the bank’s opening nearly two years past what was originally planned.

“They never said outright that they were not going to insure any new banks but it certainly appeared to be that way,” said Hauck.

In order to get the insurance, Golden Pacific bought a small community bank called Gold Country. The merger gave Golden Pacific full FDIC insurance.

“They were another community bank in Butte, Sutter, and Yuba county…they needed capital and they needed management,” says Dowdell.

Dowdell said the creation of Golden Pacific Bank wasn’t rooted within the board of directors or politics. “It was a confluence,” he said. When he was drawing up his own business plan for a community bank, explained Dowdell, conversations at CalChamber were raising concerns about the changing nature of corporate banks, many of them headquartered outside of California if not the country.

“We saw the potential for the market to implode long before others did,” said Dowdell.

The board’s capital combined with an experienced management team created what marketing director Crystal Bullard says is “a better bank,” where staff has the freedom to custom-tailor services to the unique needs of customers.     

Golden Pacific may be breaking the mold in terms of conventional banking but Dowdell said the intention is to provide a crucial service for Californians in a time when the conventional banks have run out of town. “Where other banks are pulling back, we’re moving forward,” he explained, “community banks going forward is critical to California.”

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