Bloomberg News

Obama Backers Make President Top Fundraiser From Business

December 12, 2011

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama, who has been characterized as anti-business by his political opponents, has received more in campaign contributions from business executives this year than any Republican presidential candidate.

Obama raised $5.6 million from executives, or about a third of all their donations through Sept. 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Republican candidate Mitt Romney raised $5.2 million, far outpacing his primary challengers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the front-runner in the latest national polls, raised about $272,000, or 5 percent of Romney’s total.

The findings illustrate the powers of an incumbent president with an established fundraising apparatus, and the diversity of political preferences among business leaders. Executives from communications and technology firms led Obama’s donor list. Romney’s professional ties to the private-equity fund Bain Capital LLC, which he founded, fueled his receipts.

“Business is not a monolith,” Robin Kolodny, a political scientist at Temple University in Philadelphia, said in an interview.

The Bloomberg analysis examined contributions from about 9,000 donors through the end of September. The review counted individuals who identified themselves on federal campaign documents by titles such as chief executive officer, president, vice president, chairman and director.

While executives have given more money to Obama, they make up a small percentage of his total donor base. Executives account for 6 percent of Obama’s total contributions, and 16 percent of Romney’s, according to the analysis.

Corporate America

Though Obama has criticized the excesses of Wall Street financial firms and their executives, he always has had “a large donor component that was linked to corporate America,” David Magleby, a political scientist and visiting scholar at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said in an interview.

Penny Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire businesswoman and chairman of Pritzker Realty Group LLC, led Obama’s fundraising efforts in 2008. Matthew Barzun, a former CNET Networks Inc. executive, leads fundraising for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign, declined to comment on the Bloomberg findings.

Obama raised $59,725 from donors who claimed an executive affiliation at Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable- television provider, more than from the leaders of any other company.

David L. Cohen, an executive vice president who oversees the company’s government affairs, is a so-called bundler for Obama who has raised at least $500,000 for the president’s campaign. Bundlers solicit donations for a particular candidate from friends and associates.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, declined to comment on the donations by company executives.

‘Neither One’

Obama received $25,200 from six executives at San Francisco-based Salesforce.com Inc., the largest maker of online customer-management software. They included CEO Marc Benioff, who told television interviewer Charlie Rose on Nov. 29 that he’s not sure yet whom he would back for president even though he has donated to Obama’s campaign and hosted a fundraiser for him in April.

“I have supported Barack Obama in the past,” said Benioff, who has contributed to politicians in both parties. “I have vacillated between being a Republican and being a Democrat. I’m now neither one.”

Executives from Chopper Trading LLC in Chicago, a technology-based trading firm, gave $25,000 to Obama’s campaign.

Democratic Donors Younger

Technology firms lean more Democratic than Republican because they “tend to be younger, a little bit more unconventional in terms of their thinking about business,” said Michigan’s Magleby.

Technology company leaders also may be “pushed away from the Republican Party on some social issues,” he said.

The Obama campaign has an online-based organization, Technology for Obama, that asks industry employees to “join a select group” by donating as much as $35,800 to the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Obama’s $5.6 million from executives includes $4.4 million transferred to his campaign from the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that also sends money to the Democratic National Committee.

The Obama Victory Fund may collect contributions of as much as $35,800 from one donor, and then transfer $5,000 to Obama’s re-election campaign and $30,800 to the DNC.

Executives who donated the maximum to Obama’s campaign through the victory fund include Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., and Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google Inc.

Romney Front-runner

The Bloomberg analysis shows that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the clear front-runner among Republicans for donations from executives, with his $5.2 million in receipts exceeding the cumulative total of his competitors for the nomination.

Executives from EMC Corp., a data-storage company based in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, donated $65,750 to Romney’s campaign, more than the leaders of any other company.

Romney received $33,000 from executives with Staples Inc., a Framingham, Massachusetts-based office-supply company in which he was an early investor. During a Bloomberg-Washington Post presidential debate on Oct. 11, Romney mentioned Staples in touting his background in business and job creation.

‘One Of Them’

Executives are donating to Romney in part because “he’s one of them,” said Jonathan Krasno, a political scientist at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, in an interview. “The companies that are giving him the most money are in the same industry as he was in business, or people he dealt with as governor.”

Other business leaders support Obama because “he’s an incumbent,” Krasno said. “He’s got to be seen as having a pretty good chance of winning.”

Executives are backing Romney “because of the state of the economy and the president’s failures to create jobs,” Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

To executives, Romney “looks more viable in a general election than the rest of the pack,” Kolodny said.

Romney “dominates the Republican field when it comes to being able to win a general election,” James B. “Jimmy” Lee Jr., a vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in a Nov. 28 e-mail seeking donations.

Dueling Fundraisers

Lee is co-hosting a fundraiser for Romney in New York on Dec. 14, the same day that Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of Blackstone Group LP, the world’s largest private-equity firm, will raise money for Romney at a separate event at his Park Avenue residence.

Schwarzman did business deals with Romney in the 1980s and opposes Democratic efforts to tax carried interest, the share of profits paid to asset managers, as ordinary income rather than at the lower capital gains rate.

Texas Governor Rick Perry raised at least $3.2 million from executives at businesses including United Services Automobile Association, a San Antonio-based financial services and insurance company that donated $32,500 from executives.

Executives from Contran Corp., a Dallas-based holding company, donated at least $22,500 to Perry’s campaign, and the company’s political action committee contributed $5,000.

The donations from leaders at USAA and Contran are part of why $1.8 million of Perry’s $3.2 million in executive donations came from Texas, where he’s been governor for 11 years.

‘Big Question’

It’s worth watching whether the business community will lend significant fundraising help to Gingrich’s campaign if he continues to lead in Republican polls, Michael Malbin, executive director of the Washington-based Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan group that studies political giving, said in an interview.

“Can he possibly rally the mainstream business community to support him?” he said. “I think that’s a big question.”

Gingrich surged in the polls last month. The next batch of fundraising reports, which are due Jan. 31, will cover donations made in the fourth quarter during his ascendancy.

Gingrich’s donors so far include Sheldon Adelson, the chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Richard M. DeVos Sr., a co-founder of Amway Corp., and Tom Tauke, the executive vice president for public affairs at Verizon Communications Inc. and an Iowa Republican who served with Gingrich in the House.

Donations Will Increase

R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Gingrich, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Political donations from business executives probably will increase after Republicans settle on a candidate. Presidential nominees “have raised more in the election year than the year before,” Malbin said.

In addition to the $15.6 million that business executives have donated directly to the presidential candidates, they’ve given an additional $7.5 million to super PACs that are independently promoting candidates. Super PACs proliferated after a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. The figures for super PACs are current to the end of June.

--With assistance from Jonathan D. Salant, Charles Babcock and Peter Brusoe in Washington. Editors: Timothy Franklin, Steve Geimann

-0- Dec/12/2011 16:53 GMT

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy Franklin at tfranklin14@bloomberg.net


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