Big Money

08.19.12

Wall Street Turncoats: The Money Guys Loved Obama in ’08—This Year, Romney’s Their Man

In a reversal from 2008, employees of financial-services companies have given most of their $128 million and counting in 2012 political donations to groups and candidates on the right. Sorry, Obama.

In 2008 Wall Street loved Barack Obama. Four years later, even after billions in bailout money went to the banks under Obama’s watch, the tide has turned—by about $20 million.

That’s the difference between what securities and investment firms and their employees have given to Republican candidates, the GOP, and right-leaning political-action committees during the current election cycle ($56 million) and what they’ve given to Democrats ($35 million), according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Goldman Sachs and its workers, for instance, made more than $6 million in political contributions in 2008, according to the CRP, which based its research on data provided by the Federal Election Commission. Some 75 percent of that loot went to the Democratic Party or one of its candidates, and 25 percent went to Republicans. In the 2012 cycle, the firm or its employees have so far given nearly $5 million, with the majority (56 percent) going to the GOP.

One reason for the shift, according to the CRP, might be that people in finance tend to donate to the party that controls Congress and therefore the finance committees. In 2008 that was the Democrats. Today it’s the Republicans.

And while the rightward shift is notable, so too is the percentage of money now being donated by Wall Street to outside groups (i.e., super PACs) that are able to accept unlimited and anonymous donations.

Here’s a look at who’s giving what to whom:

1. Goldman Sachs: Still on Top

The gold-plated firm is still listed as the biggest political donor on Wall Street. Goldman has also jumped on the super-PAC bandwagon, with 20 percent of its donations going to “soft money,” or outside groups.

2. Clarium Capital Management: Out of Nowhere

The investment-management firm and hedge fund founded by Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and PayPal cofounder, wasn’t among the list of top financial-sector donors during the last presidential election. Now it’s No. 2, having given $3.8 million in political contributions so far during this election cycle. What’s notable about Clarium is that 99 percent of its donations are to outside groups unaffiliated with one party or another—those super PACs. The 1 percent of Clarium’s political money that can be classified as partisan has gone to the Republican Party. According to FEC filings, Thiel himself has donated $135,000 to Revolution PAC, a super PAC dedicated to electing Ron Paul president, and $2.6 million to pro-Paul super PAC Endorse Liberty Inc.

3. Bain Capital: Lovin’ the GOP

Romney’s alma mater barely made the list of top Wall Street donors back in 2008, but this year, the private-equity firm has gotten a bit more political. Rising to the third spot from 13th, Bain and its employees have contributed more than $3.4 million during the 2012 election cycle: 17 percent has gone to Democrats, 19 percent to Republicans, and the rest to “outside groups.”

4. Foster Friess: All About the Super Pac

A newcomer on the list, at No. 4, is Foster Friess, the founder of the investment management firm Friess Associates and one of the biggest political donors in the 2012 election. Friess has donated more than $2.5 million this year so far, but just 6 percent of it has been to a party, specifically, the GOP. The rest has gone to outside groups, which may not be surprising since Friess financed the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue fund and gave nearly $1.7 million to Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign before he dropped out of the race. At the time, Friess announced he was shifting his support to the Romney campaign and might even start donating to Karl Rove’s Crossroads group .

5. Elliott Management: Red, White and Red

Elliott went from seventh on CRB’s list of Wall Street donors to No. 16. But what’s really notable about the investment banking affiliate of the Elliott Associates L.P. hedge fund is that Elliott remains the only company whose political donations come solely from individuals and go 100 percent to Republicans. Founder Paul Singer is known both for his superb money management and his harsh criticisms of the Obama administration. A Forbes article from earlier this year describes Singer as “a passionate defender of the 1 percent” who’s given $1 million to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC and more than $220,000 to Republican candidates across the country since Obama’s election in 2008.

6. Wachovia, Lehman, RIP

Comparing the 2008 list of Wall Street donors with this year’s is a reminder of the toll the banking crisis has taken. Most striking is the absence of investment bank Lehman Brothers, which was No. 6 on the list in 2008, spending $2.2 million, 64 percent of which went to Democrats.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated after publication to note that Foster Friess is no longer actively engaged with Friess Associates.