Bankers are supposed to be the personifications of economic reasoning, but anyone looking at the financial reports of the presidential candidates and super PACs that have come out this week might conclude that there’s more to their political calculations than dollars and cents. Indeed, what these reports fairly shout is that Wall Street’s political picks have been swayed by offended egos and tribalism.
Of course, there’s a straight dollars-and-cents rationale for the bankers' flight from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney. Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich; Romney wants to lower them. But the sheer extent of Wall Street’s support for Romney suggests that there’s even more in play than that. As Sam Stein and Paul Blumenthal of the Huffington Post have documented, Goldman Sachs employees, who gave Obama more than a million bucks in his first White House run, gave Romney $106,000 in the final quarter of 2011 and Obama just $12,000. Citigroup’s bankers, who gave Obama $730,000 in 2008, gave him just $3,842 in the last three months of 2011, while lavishing $196,000 on Romney. At Blackstone Private Equity, whose chair, Steven Schwarzman, compared the administration’s (tepid) efforts to raise taxes on private-equity firms to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, employees gave Obama just $7,618 while Romney raked in $90,750.
By one measure—the current popularity of Wall Street—Romney picked a poor year to likely become the first presidential nominee to hail from finance. But precisely because Wall Street is (finally! rightly!) under attack as it has not been since the early 1930s, Wall Street is looking for its own political champion as well as economic guardian, and Romney certainly fits the bill. And because Wall Street—both its people and its companies—can donate more than ever before, thanks to Citizens United, Romney also picked a very good year to run: His brethren can give him more than they could in any previous election.
The extent of their Romney support—and, as a corollary, the narrowness of Romney’s funding base—really becomes clear in the financial reports of Romney’s super PAC, set up by his backers to fund all those negative commercials that Romney himself wouldn’t want to endorse. By the end of 2011, it had raised $30.2 million from just 265 donors. Ten million of that came from just ten donors, each contributing a million apiece. Of the eight donors who are identifiable, as a New York Times article by onetime Prospect writing fellow Nick Confessore and Michael Luo documented, six are hedge-fund or private-equity executives. With a base like that, what are the odds that a President Romney is going to scrap the carried interest tax break?
The financial sharpies aren’t just giving to Romney, of course. Texas leveraged-buyout-operator Harold Simmons, who provided most of the funding for the swift-boating of John Kerry in 2004, is back. Last year, he ponied up a cool $7 million for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC. And casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife have kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign afloat by showering $10 million on the pro-Newt super PAC.
The big money is mobilizing against Obama, and it would be a mistake to assume that Obama will be able to outspend Romney come next fall. In the final quarter of 2011, Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $93.4 million while Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised $68 million, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.
For Mitt Romney, it is the best of times; it is the worst of times. The public really dislikes big-time bankers, big-time shadow bankers most of all. Meanwhile, big-time bankers, and big-time shadow bankers in particular, like Mitt Romney, their very own big-time shadow banker, and thanks to Citizens United are able to shovel him more money than ever before. He’s their blood and they are his—cold-blooded brothers to the end.