The preponderance of mega-rich supporters poses a political challenge for Romney, who has struggled for weeks over questions about his vast wealth, his history as a private equity manager and a series of gaffes that seemed to highlight his privileged station. He stumbled again on Wednesday when he told a CNN interviewer that he was “not concerned about the very poor, because they have a safety net.”
Some of Romney’s biggest supporters include executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash. These and other donor details follow the release last week of Romney’s tax returns, which showed millions held in the Cayman Islands and other overseas havens and a tax rate that is far lower than that paid by most American workers.
The revelations come at a time when President Obama and other Democrats are increasing their focus on economic fairness issues ahead of the 2012 elections, including calls to increase tax rates on millionaires and close tax loopholes on investment income. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said at a news conference Wednesday that hedge-fund managers are helping Romney because he opposes higher tax rates for a type of investment income, known as “carried interest,” that primarily benefits the wealthy.
“Of course these guys are going to give a million dollars,” Franken said. “What a bargain — what a bargain to give that to a candidate who they know will veto a bill that makes the carried interest subject to the top” income tax rate.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul objected to such criticism and said 84 percent of the campaign’s donations in the fourth quarter last year were $250 or less. Meanwhile, the candidate sought to clarify his remarks to CNN about the poor, saying they were taken out of context.
“Wealthy people are doing fine,” Romney said. “But my focus in the campaign is on middle-income people. Of course I’m concerned about all Americans — poor, wealthy, middle-class — but the focus of my effort will be on middle-income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy.”
The president has acquired nearly half of his campaign war chest from small-money donors, raising more from contributions of $200 or less than the Romney campaign has brought in overall, disclosure data show. Romney’s GOP rivals also have raised a larger proportion of their money from small donors.
Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist who advises a pro-Obama group called Priorities USA, argues that Romney’s close connections to the super-rich exacerbate his problems relating to regular voters. Romney has generally fared poorly among lower-income voters in early GOP contests, particularly in his loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina on Jan. 21.