As Obama Loses Wall Street, Will He Lose Washington?

Recent news that President Barack Obama raised a whopping $43 million dollars from July through September for his reelection campaign puts into the spotlight the issue of who is donating to presidential campaigns and which candidates these donors are backing in 2012.

While Obama has raised an enormous sum of $99 million this election season, there’s been one notable exception from his camp of donors: Wall Street. While the financial sector backed and donated more than $42 million to Obama’s campaign in 2008, this time around, they are supporting former governor and Wall Street CEO Mitt Romney.

In a political environment where money means influence, this shift of allegiances is telling about the increasingly partisan nature of U.S. politics.

The numbers say it all: Until now, 52% of Obama’s fundraising has come from small donations, while only 22% of it falls under the category of $2,500 donations (the maximum amount that can be given). By contrast, a staggering 61% of Romney’s money has come from donations of $2,500, while only 10% has come from small donations.

Even more indicative of the difference between Obama and Romney is the composition of the donor-pool for the two candidates. Romney’s number one campaign contributor has been Goldman Sachs, whose employees and their spouses have given over seven times more to Romney than to Obama. Goldman’s preference for Romney is part of a larger trend; while 23% of Romney’s money has come from the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors, less than 5% of Obama’s is from the same group.

This split may not come as a surprise. In 2008, Obama was the candidate who transcended partisan politics. Wall Street donated to him. Young people campaigned for him. Unions supported him. But, since his election, he’s lost Wall Street’s support by backing financial reform and even calling Wall Street “immoral.” On the other hand, Romney has furiously defended the industry, insisting that “corporations are people.”

But given this split, what also should not be surprising is the increasingly partisan nature of Washington politics. When entire industries, such as the financial sector, are choosing to support one party and candidate rather than spread their donations more evenly across parties, it is natural that our politicians will cater to interest groups and divide across party lines. The issue is not simply that Wall Street is supporting Romney, but rather that they are not also supporting Obama.

In today’s polarized political atmosphere in which compromise is a dirty word, the growing gap between who funds our political parties and candidates leaves little hope that Washington will get any less partisan any time soon.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Masuma Ahuja

Having lived on three continents, I'm particularly interested in global issues and international politics. I'm a recent graduate from Oxford, with an honors BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. I've also worked on the hill, in microfinance, and for various nonprofits and media outlets.

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