Wall Street outdid the legal profession in raising money for Mitt Romney, making him the first major-party presidential nominee in at least two decades who didn’t rely on lawyers as his biggest source of funding.
The BGOV Barometer shows that Romney, who lost his White House run in November, raised $21 million from employees in the securities and investment industry and $14 million from lawyers, lobbyists and others working in law firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign contributions.
President Barack Obama, like every other major-party nominee going back to at least George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992, saw attorneys and others at law firms provide the most money to his campaign, with $27 million in contributions. The securities and investment industry was less generous to Obama, the first time in at least 20 years Wall Street wasn’t among the top five sources of a presidential candidate’s contributions.
“There are a lot of lawyers in America and a lot of lawyers with the financial means to make contributions to campaigns,” said Michael Toner, co-chairman of the election law practice at Wiley Rein LLP and a former Federal Election Commission chairman. “Political giving is a part of the culture. It’s really in the DNA.”
Many lawyers work at firms that also lobby. While Obama’s campaign didn’t accept donations from registered lobbyists, it took in contributions from others who work in the same law firms. For example, his 12th biggest source of campaign contributions, $400,390, came from attorneys and others at DLA Piper not registered to lobby, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm was paid $7 million through the first nine months of 2012 by clients such as Aetna Inc., Comcast Corp. and Raytheon Co.
Lawyers were Romney’s third-biggest source of donations, behind both Wall Street and employees in the real estate industry. The legal profession had been the No. 1 giver to every major-party presidential nominee since at least 1992, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A co-founder of the Boston-based private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, the former Massachusetts governor took in more money from Wall Street than any other nominee since the modern campaign finance system was put in place for the 1976 elections following the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Romney’s Wall Street fundraising was fueled both by his investment background and by anger at Obama, who successfully championed new financial regulations in response to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
“This is partly because of Romney, how attractive he was to the securities and investment industry because he viewed them as one of their own, and partially a reflection of what has happened in finance and how this administration has responded,” she said.
Even as Obama raised more than $700 million for his re-election, his 2012 campaign was the only one in 20 years where securities and investment employees weren’t among a major-party nominee’s top five sources of contributions. Wall Street employees gave Obama $6.1 million, ranking 10th, after giving him $16 million in 2008, when they were his third-largest source.
While 13 financial firms were among Romney’s top 20 sources of campaign cash, none appeared on Obama’s list of top industry donors, after five showed up in 2008.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. employees gave $1 million to Obama for his 2008 campaign, more than any other company’s. This time, a similar amount went to Romney, making Goldman his top source of contributions. Obama took in about $200,000 from employees of New York-based Goldman.
“A lot of business and a lot of Wall Street felt they needed government involvement and assistance in time for the ’08 election,” said Bruce Heiman, whose clients at K&L Gates LLP include Charles Schwab Corp. “You then had an overreaching by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. You had a response and reaction to that.”
Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said Wall Street should have expected the White House to respond the way it did to the financial crash.
“Watching what some of the largest financial institutions did, it’s not reasonable to believe that would not result in additional oversight and some regulatory burdens,” said Dorgan, a senior policy adviser at Arent Fox LLP.