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Obama, Romney: Who's Buying Whom?

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Campaign finance sometimes comes from surprising sources. Want to know who is bankrolling your candidates?

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL In modern American elections, especially after the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling gave us super-PACs, it really isn't a secret that you need cash to win.

Wisconsin's recent recall election is a case in point. Despite his apparent unpopularity in the state, Governor Scott Walker raised and spent far more than his opponent, Tom Barrett. Walker prevailed over his challenger Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, with help from rich Republicans like Foster Friess, Sheldon Adelson, and the notoriously anti-labor Koch brothers. In all, Walker outspent the Milwaukee mayor by 7-1, though liberal groups helped narrow that gap to 2-1.

The last presidential race was the most expensive to date. Barack Obama opted out of receiving federal funds and yet still outspent John McCain, who didn't opt out. With Citizens United in place, elections can only get more expensive.

The latest figures from Federal Election Commission disclosures show us which companies' employees are supporting whom.

Take a look at some of this data (found at opensecrets.org). There are some surprises in here, and some pretty non-surprises. Since donations pretty much dictate who gets access to the president and who doesn't, the donors listed below could become some of the most powerful people in the world.


Barack Obama is definitely out-fundraising Mitt Romney, though in the month of May, Romney doubled his April fundraising, surpassing Obama's.

The biggest differences were in the size of donations and in the sources of the donations. Obama's average donation size is far smaller, but it is worth noting that a majority of both candidates' individual contributions were large (over $200).


Where it gets interesting is where the candidate's money comes from.

Here is a list of companies whose employees give the most to the two candidates' campaigns. Take note that these aren't actual companies donating to the campaigns. Corporations can donate directly to state and local candidates' campaigns, and after Citizens United, corporations can now give unlimited amounts of money to campaigns through super-PACs. The FEC only tracks donations over $200.

First, Mitt Romney's side is a dog-bites-man story. It's no surprise that Wall Streeters are big supporters of Romney. He vows to get rid of the Dodd-Frank act on his first day in office. Beneficiaries of the carried-interest tax loophole can rest assured that Romney will not enact any legislation that he himself will not benefit from. With Goldman, JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C), and Wells Fargo (WFC) all represented, Romney's donor list reads like a who's-who of banking.

Romney's ties to Goldman Sachs (GS) aren't personal, but he is evidently a happy client. According to Romney's financial disclosure forms, he has loads of investment accounts in portfolios managed by Goldman that most savers would probably struggle to even read the names of. All in, the financial community contributed $19,194,566 to Mitt Romney's coffers to date.

Two of the firms on Romney's list include those that he ran. Romney famously founded and ran Bain Capital, the private equity firm. His ties to Marriott International (MAR) run even deeper. Romney's father was friends with J.Willard Marriott, a fellow Mormon. Mitt was named Willard Mitt after his father's friend and has since flipped his name to put Mitt first. He also sat on Marriott's board of directors for 10 years. Marriott itself donates liberally, but almost never to liberals. The hotel chain encourages employees to donate to Republicans as well, and Mitt Romney is no exception.

Barack Obama's disclosure forms, on the other hand, show what a low-key investor he is. His closest connection to Wall Street is in a few vanilla Vanguard index funds, some retirement and college savings funds, US Treasuries, and a Chase checking account. But he still feels the love from the banks, just not nearly as much as Romney.

While Barack Obama gets cash from Wall Street (about $8 million), it's certainly not anywhere near Romney levels. The president's biggest donors are in law ($10.9 million). As a trained attorney himself, the president has plenty of appeal to lawyers and lobbyists, despite his fair-weather flip-floppy support for tort reform. His academic background is reflected by several of his alma maters making his list of top donors.

The company whose employees have donated the most to Barack Obama so far is Microsoft (MSFT) at $347,916. This might seem strange, considering that the president is a well-known Mac fan and won't let you pry his BlackBerry (RIMM) from his cold, dead hands. And then there was his 2011 'Innovation Dinner,' when he hosted all the Silicon Valley heavyweights, but notably neglected to invite Steve Ballmer. Indeed, the tech-savvy president seems to poll well among techies. Members of the computers/internet sector were the seventh-largest donors to Barack Obama so far in this cycle.

It might just be that the type of person that Microsoft needs to recruit fits the profile of a strong Obama supporter, even if its CEO and the president could do a great rehash of the "I'm a Mac" ads.

Other tech companies' employees lean more toward the left. Apple (AAPL) employees mainly donate to Democrats, though not exclusively. Steve Jobs himself gave exclusively to Democrats between 1989 and 2010, while his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, donated more than 91% of her contributions (about double what Steve gave) to Democratic interests.

Employees at Google (GOOG), a relative newcomer to political engagement, are Obama's fifth-largest source of funds. Many prominent Googlers also give to Democrats. In this election cycle, Sergey Brim and Larry Page together gave $40,800 to Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee. Internet pioneer and Google employee Vint Cerf gave over $32,000 to Democrats.

The tech industry also has its contrarian element that gravitates toward the libertarian. Googlers were third on Ron Paul's thank-you list (after the Army, Air Force, and Navy). Paypal (EBAY) co-founder and billionaire hedge fund manager Peter Thiel also gave over $2 million to Paul's campaign as well as other Republican causes.

Here is a sector-by-sector breakdown of contributions from individuals to the candidates' campaigns.



It is interesting that lobbyists, lawyers, and people in the defense and health industries are sending more money to a president that has helped end a full-scale war, passed landmark health care legislation, and promised to make the business of government more transparent.

In an interesting turn, the President has been advocating for a roll-back of New Deal era farm subsidies, so it is no surprise that agribusiness is giving more to the Republican Romney. Despite insistence on fiscal-hawkery, Republicans want to keep the subsidies alive. In Republican leaning states, as much as 40% of income for farms comes directly from the government, and most subsidies go to commercial farms. 2011 was a record year for agribusiness income.

The Super PACs

Corporations can't donate directly to federal political campaigns, but they can and do donate to state and local campaigns. Thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations, unions, and even foreign companies, can now donate as much as they like to Super-PACs that spend on behalf of their affiliated candidate. This is where the big bucks are, and this is also where things get weird. We will be reporting on some of the companies that are behind both major candidates soon. You will not believe where Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are getting some of their cash from. Stay tuned.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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