Obama Campaign Replaces Wall Street Defectors to Help Funding

Obama Campaign Replaces Wall Street Defectors
President Barack Obama greets supporters during a fundraiser at the Aragon Entertainment Center in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2011. Photographer: Scott Olson/Pool

The high technology Internet industry and trial lawyers are helping President Barack Obama avoid a potential fundraising liability caused in part by a drop in support from his biggest 2008 industry backer: Wall Street.

Microsoft Corp. employees rank first among Obama’s business givers, taking the spot investors at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. held in the 2008 presidential cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.

Obama, 50, is exceeding his record fundraising pace of four years ago, even though he started later this time around. He reported raising $88 million through Sept. 30, up from $80 million in 2007. That is more than twice the amount of money raised by the leading Republican presidential fundraiser, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney reported $33 million in donations, some of it from Wall Street donors who once backed Obama.

“The strong totals indicate that he has been able to replace the defecting Wall Street donors and also indicate that Democratic discontent is still containable,” said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

To reach out to high-tech employees, the campaign has started “Technology for Obama,” an on-line-based organization that is similar to those used by the campaign to reach out to such constituencies as women and Latinos.

Membership Costs

Memberships start at $25 and go to $35,800, including a $30,800 donation to the Democratic National Committee. People who join the group are given opportunities to share their ideas on policy matters related to the technology industry.

“This is an industry that embraces people who talk about what the future is going to be,” said Rusty Rueff, a Hillsborough, California-based consultant and investor in technology companies and national co-chairman of the Obama group. “As we talk about what the president wants to do, there’s not a lot of, ‘Woe is us.’” Instead, he said, “‘It’s, ‘Great, let’s make things better.’”

Participants are being urged to write more than checks; they are being asked to help the Obama campaign connect with voters through social media and other technology.

“We’re in a totally different world on how you connect to voters today,” said Rueff, who has raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the campaign this year. “If you have a half a billion people on Facebook, that’s a pretty important place to be.”

Triple Romney’s Donations

Obama has raised $1.2 million from technology company employees through Sept. 30, more than any other presidential candidate and three times Romney’s $374,650, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Donations from those workers account for three of Obama’s top five corporate sources of campaign cash. Microsoft is No. 1 and Google Inc. is No. 3, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Chopper Trading LLC, a Chicago-based technology company, is No. 4. Four years ago, Chopper employees gave a total of $2,300. As of Sept. 30, they contributed $64,815 to the re-election effort.

Among donations in the third quarter alone, Oracle Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. employees also ranked in the top 10 sources of corporate cash, according to a computer-assisted analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Obama has pushed for expanded access to wireless and other high-speed Internet connections, including inserting in the 2009 stimulus legislation $7 billion for broadband construction. He also signed into law a new patent system, a top priority for the fast-changing technology world, and has set up a White House Internet policy task force.

Attorneys’ Donations

Beyond the technology community, lawyers are also stepping up their giving to the president.

As of Sept. 30, attorneys donated $4 million to Obama, more than to any other candidate and more than double the $1.7 million they have given to Romney. The Center for Responsive Politics identified 77 Obama bundlers -- donors who tap their friends and family to make additional campaign contributions -- who are lawyers more than any other profession.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, many trial lawyers at this point were backing one of their own, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, now facing a January trial on federal criminal campaign finance charges for allegedly diverting political donations to hide an affair.

Preserving Support

“They are interested in preserving the support that the plaintiffs’ bar had for Barack Obama in the last election,” said Ron Goldman, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, PC. “I am concerned that unless he steps up his communication, while he may have support, it may be more tepid.”

While Obama doesn’t accept campaign contributions from registered lobbyists, six of his 20 top sources of donations were employees of law firms that also advocate for clients on Capitol Hill and with the administration.

The president’s campaign received $79,475 from employees of DLA Piper, which was paid $6.2 million through Sept. 30 by such companies as Comcast Corp. and Raytheon Co.; and $51,200 from employees of Arnold & Porter LLP, which was paid $2.8 million through Sept. 30 to lobby on behalf of Altria Group Inc., Toyota Motor Corp., and others.

The president has support from other corporate corners. Some donations are coming from business owners who are convinced Obama’s efforts to improve the economy are on target, said Daniel Halpern, president of Atlanta-based Jackmont Hospitality Inc., who raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for the re-election campaign.

Middle-Class Customers

“The majority of American business depends on the middle class,” said Halpern, whose company owns T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants. “Today, he’s the only individual running for president who understands you have to have a strong and robust middle class.”

Halpern said that initiatives championed by Obama, such as cutting payroll taxes and accelerating depreciation write-offs, enabled him to build three new restaurants this year, projects that created 200 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs.

“Without the incentives offered by the government, I don’t think the projects would have happened,” he said.

The president retains some Wall Street support. Robert Wolf, chairman of UBS Americas, has raised more than $500,000 for Obama, as he did four years ago. Employees of Goldman Sachs Group and Bank of America Corp. are among his top 20 contributors.

Wall Street Giving

Obama raised $1.6 million through Sept. 30 from securities and investment industry employees and their families. Romney, founder of the Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital LLC, has more than doubled that, bringing in $3.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Four years ago, Obama raised $16 million from Wall Street; Romney, who dropped out of the Republican nomination race on Feb. 7, 2008, collected $5 million.

Romney, 64, has called for repealing the financial regulations enacted by Obama in response to the most severe economic decline since the Great Depression.

Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, said Wall Street givers are donating to the Republican’s campaign because of Obama’s stewardship of the economy and his “failure to create jobs.”

Obama bundler Kirk Rudy, who has raised more than $500,000 for the re-election effort, said many in the financial industry support the new regulations and are standing by the president.

“These people are very savvy,” said Rudy, chief executive of Endeavor Real Estate Group, a commercial real estate developer in Austin, Texas. “They realize that after the financial industry collapsed and the bailout, reasonable regulations were needed to be put in place.”

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