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Big business filling campaign coffers

U.S. President Barack Obama greets supporters after speaking during a Democratic campaign fundraiser in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 11, 2011.

Kai Ryssdal: Election Day's still 12 months and a couple of weeks away, too far from now for a lot of voters to be paying attention. But big campaign contributors surely are.

The president's already raised $90 million to keep his job. Republicans -- with eight major candidates still in the running -- have raised slightly less collectively, around $83 million.

It's a truth of campaign finance that financial companies are big givers. And our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports this year is no different.


John Dimsdale: Companies in the finance industry -- including banks, insurance and real estate -- have always been the biggest campaign contributors, ever since the Center for Responsive Politics began tracking donations by industry 20 years ago.

And it's still true. So far this year, the finance industry or its employees have donated one in every 10 campaign dollars. In 2008, Barack Obama attracted almost 60 percent of the industry's contributions. This year, the Center's Michael Beckel reports a different trend.

Michael Beckel: All of the major financial players -- Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America -- Mitt Romney is their number one beneficiary this year across the board.

That may be in part because Romney is one of their own, having run a major private equity firm, Bain Capital. But there could be other reasons. Political scholar Michael Barone at the American Enterprise Institute says Obama has been inviting Wall Street's scorn.

Michael Barone: He's also taken some verbal pot shots at the finance industry and seems to be prepared to, you know, campaign against millionaires and corporate jets.

Still, it's early in the campaign. So far this year, overall donations are down 30 percent from the last presidential election cycle. Larry Makinson used to head the Center for Responsive Politics. He says the financial industry always hedges its bets.

Larry Makinson: They follow the same rules, I think, investing in politicians as they do in playing the markets. The safest place to be is on the fence, watching which side is ahead or which side is behind at a particular time, and then jumping quickly.

Like most industries, he says, banks want to back a winner. So the candidate they bankroll could easily change over the next year.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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