Obama still flush with cash from financial sector despite frosty relations

October 19, 2011

Despite frosty relations with the titans of Wall Street, President Obama has still managed to raise far more money this year from the financial and banking sector than Mitt Romney or any other Republican presidential candidate, according to new fundraising data.

Obama’s key advantage over the GOP field is the ability to collect bigger checks because he raises money for both his own campaign committee and for the Democratic National Committee, which will aid in his reelection effort.

As a result, Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined, according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data. The numbers show that Obama retains a persistent reservoir of support among Democratic financiers who have backed him since he was an underdog presidential candidate four years ago.

Obama’s fundraising advantage is clear in the case of Bain Capital, the Boston-based private-equity firm that was co-founded by Romney, and where the Republican made his fortune. Not surprisingly, Romney has strong support at the firm, raking in $34,000 from 18 Bain employees, according to the analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Obama has outdone Romney on his own turf, collecting $76,600 from Bain Capital employees through September — and he needed only three donors to do it.

The battle for Wall Street cash has become a crucial subtext in the 2012 campaign, which is shaping up to focus heavily on federal banking and markets policies and the struggling economy.

Top Republicans have courted major U.S. bank executives and financiers, arguing that Obama’s policies have hurt them, while Democrats are seeking to turn the erosion of support on Wall Street to their populist advantage.

Channeling ‘Occupy’ anger

Obama’s ties to Wall Street donors could complicate Democratic plans to paint Republicans as puppets of the financial industry, particularly in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have gone global over the past week.

In response to the protests, the Obama campaign and other Democrats have stepped up their attacks on Romney and other Republicans for their opposition to Wall Street regulations.

One top banking executive who raises money for Obama, discussing fundraising efforts on the condition of anonymity, said reports of disaffection with the president “are exaggerated and overblown.” He said a strong contingent of financiers in New York, Chicago and California remains supportive of Obama and his economic policies, even as some have turned on him.

But, this donor added, “it probably helps from a political perspective if he’s not seen as a Wall Street guy.”

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the former Massachusetts governor’s success in the financial sector is evidence of the business community’s confidence in him as well as its unhappiness with Obama.


Donors support Romney because of “the state of the economy and the president’s failure to create jobs,” she said. “President Obama and his campaign will say anything to distract voters from his failed economic record.”

Unlike the Republican candidates, Obama can raise money for both his own campaign account, which can take donations up to $5,000 for the 2012 cycle, and for his party’s national committee, which can accept $30,800 per individual each calendar year. The same donors will be able to give another $30,800 to the DNC next year.

The result is more money from fewer donors in the finance business.

Obama has raised a total of $15.6 million from employees in the industry, according to the Post analysis. Nearly $12 million of that went to the DNC, the analysis shows.

Romney has raised less than half that much from the industry, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry brought in about $2 million. No other Republican candidate has raised more than $402,000 from the finance sector, which also includes insurance and real estate interests.

Even so, Obama clearly has trouble appealing to Wall Street fundraisers, who have emerged in recent years as among the most important sources of campaign cash for major national politicians.

Put aside the DNC money, for example, and Obama’s numbers look much worse: just $3.9 million from the financial sector, compared with Romney’s $7.5 million.

Obama’s campaign committee has raised notably less money from major banking firms such as Goldman Sachs, whose employees gave him more than $1 million in the 2008 cycle. So far this year, about two dozen Goldman employees together have given Obama’s committee about $45,000, one-sixth of the amount Romney’s campaign has taken in.

But six Goldman employees also gave a total of $92,000 to the DNC side of Obama’s fundraising effort.

Limits on GOP candidates

Obama’s financial advantage is almost certain to narrow in the months ahead. Once chosen, a GOP nominee will be able to raise money jointly with the Republican National Committee.

Romney is particularly reliant on money from the finance sector, which accounts for about a quarter of his total contributions, the data show. By contrast, about 5 percent of the $90 million Obama’s campaign committee has raised this year came from finance and banking interests.

Obama retains a core group of supporters on Wall Street who are central to his fundraising efforts. About a third of his top 40 fundraisers, who have helped bundle together $500,000 or more in contributions, hail from the finance sector, including big names such as former New Jersey governor Jon S. Corzine of MF Global, hedge-fund manager Orin Kramer and UBS executive Robert Wolf.

Obama’s chief of staff, William M. Daley, was also vice chairman at J.P. Morgan Chase before coming to the White House this year.

Obama’s support within the financial industry tends to be more diffuse than the top Wall Street firms. One of his primary sources of cash, for example, is a small Chicago firm called Chopper Trading, which employs a technique of rapid, computer-assisted trading that some experts blame for volatility in the stock market.

Employees of the company gave Obama $222,000 after Vice President Biden held a fundraiser at the home of the company’s chief executive, Rajiv Fernando, a campaign bundler. The firm did not respond to a request for comment.

Obama aides regularly point to his $155 million joint fundraising total with the DNC as evidence of the campaign’s momentum but have tended to ignore DNC money when discussing Wall Street.

In a memo issued Tuesday, for example, DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said Romney’s campaign “seems quite proud of the fact that they are leading the money race for campaign cash from Wall Street.”

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement that contributions from the financial sector show that many corporate leaders agree with Obama on the need for “an economy that’s built to last, not on loopholes and outsourcing.”

“There are business leaders across industries who agree with the president that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the American people are never again held hostage by risky Wall Street deals that threaten our entire economy,” LaBolt said. “Mitt Romney and all the Republican candidates believe the opposite.”

Deputy editor, National politics
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