Who are the big-money givers behind the candidates?

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Identifying the friends of Clinton, McCain, and Obama:

Dallas Oilman H.L. Hunt was a billionaire in a time when such massive wealth was unusual, back in the 1950s and ’60s. H.L. was also politically bonkers–so far out there on the right-right-right wing that he considered Dwight Eisenhower a commie. In 1960, Hunt published a novel called Alpaca, in which he set forth his utopian vision for the governance of America. In the happy plutocratic kingdom he envisioned, the richer you are, the more votes you get.

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Alas, poor H.L. couldn’t get any sane people to take him seriously back then. Yet over the years, his wealthatopian fantasy has steadily crept into our political reality, becoming incorporated in today’s campaign-funding system. As we’ve seen in both congressional and presidential races, money doesn’t merely talk, it shouts, and it’s been drowning out the voice of the people on issue after issue. While wealthy donors make up only a fraction of one percent of the population, they have gained a bigger vote in national public policy than the electorate at large.

The system unabashedly teaches that money is the ballot that counts and big donors are the citizens who matter. This is why a majority of Americans have become disenchanted– to disgusted with politics during the past few decades. It’s also why there is growing support for publicly financed campaigns, which grassroots groups have pushed through in seven states, stretching from Maine to Arizona.

Which brings us to this year’s presidential run. While the bulk of the media attention has been on such weighty matters as who’s wearing or not wearing flag lapel pins, there’s been little focus on the back rooms where the money is being raised. So, in this issue of the Lowdown, we take a peek, finding the predictable, the ironic, and the surprising.

The predictable includes the presence of such Wall Street interests as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, and Morgan Stanley on the top-donor lists of all three contenders–Clinton, McCain, and Obama. As Wall Street seeks bailouts and tries to stop new laws that would regulate financial manipulations, the big banks are hedging their political bets, hoping to have a friend in the White House, no matter who wins.

In the ironic category is the revelation that McCain, who campaigns as Mr. Clean, actually is Mr. Soiled. His top advisors, staffers, and fund raisers are big- time lobbyists who hail from the K Street corridor of influence peddling and include early organizers and funders of Bush Incorporated. These operatives and their corporate clients are out to keep their grip on national policy by forging a McBush presidency.

One pleasant surprise is the wave of grassroots enthusiasm that has allowed both Clinton and Obama to raise dramatically more money than the GOP candidate. Especially in the case of Obama’s campaign, big donors have had to take a back seat to the $20-to-$200 political enthusiasts. Most of them donate through his website, and many are young voters. This is money not attached to special-interest favors, and it represents a political revolt that could break the stranglehold of business-as-usual politics.

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How much the candidates have raised and spent

Personal finances, including spouses

Candidates and their spouses have released their tax returns for 2007, except that Cindy McCain released only a summary of hers, from 2006. She is immensely more wealthy than hubby John.

Net worth
(reported on ’06 Senate disclosures)
$10-$51 million $28-$45 million
but many observers say that Cindy’s beer empire makes her worth $100
About $1 million
Income (2007)
(salaries, interest, dividends, speeches, books, consulting)
(their estimate for ’07–about half from Bill’s speeches)
to John (salaries, pensions, books in ’07) PLUS $6 million to Cindy (in ’06)
(in ’07: $4 million was from Barack’s books)


How many contributors are giving how much?

Federal election rules require donors of $200 or more to identify themselves by occupation and employer. The maximum any individual can give is $2,300 in primaries, and the same again for the general election, for a total of $4,600.

Contributors HILLARY
Number of $200+ 92,844 42,697 132,125
Number of $2,300+ 25,358 13,112 26,280
Number of $4,600 8,128 1,765 2,544
Number of CEO donors
[Congressional Quarterly]
52 102 45
Number of registered lobbyists bundling donations in excess of $1,000 [WhiteHouseForSale.org] 22 70 14

Obama’s grassrootsiness shows up in this table, showing that almost half his money has come from $200-or-less donors.

% from donors of $200 or less 27% 20% 43%
% from donors of $2,300+ 47% 50% 29%
% from donors of $4,600 22% 12% 5%
[All charts above are based on opensecrets.org as of 5/22 except where otherwise noted]


Who from?

So far, all three candidates have opted out of federal matching funds.

Individuals $192,239,572
By gender 49.2%
PACs $1,251,170
Their own money $10,000,000
Zero reported
but wife Cindy may have given a lot–see this commentary.
Other $11,392,696

From campaign filings to the FEC in May 2008.


Which PACs?

Corporate 55% 73% 0%
Labor 11% 0% 0%
Single Issue
34% 27% 0%


Friends of John

McCain’s big backer in the lobbyist world is Blank Rome LLP–known as “ATM of the GOP.” Blank Rome is where Swift Boat retired Rear Admiral William Schachte is a lobbyist, and where David Girard-diCarlo, a Bush backer, is chairman. After Katrina, Blank Rome lobbied FEMA to award a no-bid contract for rebuilding classrooms to a client who charged taxpayers double the wholesale price.

Telecommunications firms AT&T and IDT are on the top-donor list for McCain, who chaired the Senate committee overseeing telecommunications for much of the last decade.

In addition, although he bills himself as the feared enemy of special interests, McCain has filled his campaign staff from top to bottom with the very influence peddlers he claims to oppose. The recent revelation that the reprehensible military thugs who rule Myanmar are clients of two lobbyists working on the campaign has caused a major shake-up.

In an attempt to recover from this embarrassing exposure, the campaign dumped the lobbyists and loudly proclaimed new ethics rules to bar conflicts of interest on McCain’s presidential team. This housecleaning would have been laudable, but instead it immediately turned laughable because the person announcing the rules was Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager. Who’s he? A hot-shot Washington lobbyist and former chief spear carrier for Verizon and other major telecommunications corporations seeking favors from the Senate committee chaired by McCain.

The old business-as-usual crowd is literally running and funding this presidential campaign, and the “new rules” are a fraud. For example, they bar “active” lobbyists from working “full time” for the McCain campaign. These phrases are carefully contrived loopholes, allowing corporate lobbyists either to suspend their active lobbying temporarily to work for McCain’s election or simply to work part time for him while still lobbying. Also, note that McCain’s ethics don’t go so far as to bar lobbyists from giving and raising money for his election.

Among the career lobbyists still playing major roles in McCain’s runare Charlie Black (top strategist), Randy Scheunemann (chief foreign-policy advisor), Susan Nelson (finance director), Wayne Berman (deputy finance chairman), and Christian Ferry (deputy campaign manager). One more nice touch: In 2005, while he was actively lobbying for corporate interests, Rick Davis also served as part-time president of the Reform Institute, which McCain created to cast himself as having reduced “the influence of special interests” in Washington.

McCain's top 15 donors

These amounts are the sum of $200 + contributions from employees of these corporations or institutions given either directly or through PACs administered by these entities.

Merrill Lynch $226,550
Blank Rome LLP $222,050
Citigroup Inc $206,102
Greenberg Traurig LLP $173,837
AT&T Inc $149,305
Goldman Sachs $128,770
Morgan Stanley $124,951
JPMorgan Chase & Co $123,450
Credit Suisse Group $115,625
Lehman Brothers $98,400
Univision Communications $87,000
Bank of New York Mellon $86,500
Blackstone Group $86,350
IDT Corp $84,850
Wachovia Corp $84,050

McCain's top ten industries

1 Retired $9,101,609
2 Lawyers/Law Firms $4,228,737
3 Misc Business $3,892,667
4 Securities & Investment $3,764,664
5 Real Estate $2,915,560
6 Misc Finance $1,449,917
7 Health Professionals $1,031,244
8 Commercial Banks $1,010,234
9 Business Services $1,010,234
10 Civil Servants/ Public Officials $637,568



Friends of Barack

Obama takes no contributions from PACs, which are one of the two vehicles for large corporate giving. The other is “bundling”–gathering individual checks from the executives of a corporation. Obama’s campaign does accept these donations, including big bundles from UBS AG, a bank based in Switzerland that is the world’s biggest manager of other people’s money; Exelon Corporation, the largest nuclear operator in the U.S.; and Jones Day, the second-largest law firm in the U.S., which represents more than 250 major corporations, including oil giants, global banks, tobacco companies, and such notorious names as Diebold and Halliburton.

While these interests are investing in a possible Obama presidency, a la the “old politics,” this internet-savvy senator has simultaneously wrought a revolution in presidential campaigning through the “new politics” of online outreach, which is bringing in the bulk of his money. He has amassed more than 1.5 million individual donors, 90% of whom have given $100 or less (41% have given $25 or less), according to the Obama campaign.

Obama’s website was designed by Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook, which in just a few years has grown to be the world’s premier social networking site. MyBarackObama.com has become a wondrous money machine, raking in the green from the grassroots. In April, for example, another $31 million poured into the campaign without Obama’s holding a single fund-raising dinner or high-dollar event. He attracted 200,000 new donors in that one month, practically all of them below the $200 level–and most of them young.

Young voters identify with Obama, who is 47 and proclaims himself a “post-partisan” politician. His “change” mantra promises a politics of the new–new people participating, new policies, and a new way of governing. There are about 90 million people in the millennial generation (born in the 1980s and ’90s), and since real incomes for their generation have declined by more than 10% over the last 30 years, they want a government that invests in education and health care, expands the economy, and fosters the growth of good jobs.

In the primaries, Obama has won the support of 6 in 10 voters under age 30, and by April, more than three million voters under the age of 30 had participated in Democratic primaries, up from about one million four years ago.

Obama's top fifteen donors

These amounts are the sum of $200 + contributions from employees of these corporations or institutions given either directly or through PACs administered by these entities.

Goldman Sachs $544,481
University of California $371,266
UBS AG $363,257
JPMorgan Chase & Co $353,808
Citigroup Inc $331,946
National Amusements Inc $313,511
Lehman Brothers $312,597
Google Inc $293,974
Harvard University $292,441
Sidley Austin LLP $287,795
Skadden, Arps et al $266,413
Morgan Stanley $253,576
Jones Day $245,875
Time Warner $245,828
Exelon Corp $229,861

Obama's top ten industries

Amounts are the sum of $200+ contributions from the industries or occupations given by individual and PAC donors.

1 Lawyers/Law Firms $15,019,030
2 Misc Business $13,412,381
3 Retired $9,206,269
4 Securities & Investment $7,498,503
5 Education $6,314,947
6 Real Estate $3,830,977
7 Business Services $3,256,159
8 TV/Movies/Music $3,214,665
9 Computers/Internet $2,698,291
10 Health Professionals $2,482,665

Should Obama be the life of the party?

Not only is Obama creating 
a new, internet-based political infrastructure that can bypass the money, media, and old-line political establishments, but he’s also bypassing much of today’s organized progressive structure. While most progressives (groups and individuals) are backing him, his campaign is not a coalition of these forces, nor would his presidency simply wave them inside.

He is building a very broad, youth-oriented, web-connected movement that is rooted in the progressive values of existing networks–but operates outside of them. He is, in effect, creating a new party and, possibly, a new form of politics.

Indeed, many online politicos in their 20s and 30s are not interested in remaking the Democratic party. Instead, they see a future in which a mass online constituency forms its own allegiances to various players and issues. “Party” itself is up for remaking. Obama is reaching for a different political construct that allows for direct grassroots involvement in policy-making, displacing many middlemen and power-brokering institutions.

The worrisome part is that this could concentrate too much power in a new supra-organization: ObamaNation. Progressive blogging guru Matt Stoller (openleft.com) points out that even as Obama’s campaign is offering a revitalized democratic possibility to ordinary people, the means to implement this possibility are not being democratically shared. Instead, it is under the firm control of one charismatic politician: him. For example, Obama’s online fund-raising operation (estimated to have three times the fund-raising power of MoveOn) could raise big sums for other candidates, but he has unilateral control of the list. He decides who uses it, for what purpose, and when. Also, Obama is going around such progressive coalitions as America Votes to run his own voter-registration drives in all 50 states; several sources say his campaign is urging donors to stop giving to independent get-out-the-vote groups.

The Democratic party certainly needs to be re-engineered to meet the massive democratic potential of the internet and to open itself to the demands of a restive electorate. Also it’s not new (nor is it a negative) for a transformative figure with big ideas to redefine the terms of debate and to restructure the political system–think FDR. But it is not a moment too soon for progressives to be thinking about ways to make sure that an Obama presidency is progressive–in structure as well as in policies.


Friends of Hillary

Top of her list of donors is DLA Piper, the largest law firm in the United States by number of attorneys and one of the largest law firms in the world. It represents more than half of America’s 250 biggest companiesand its board chairman is former U.S. Democratic Senator George Mitchell, who has worked on everything from the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement to steroid use in major-league baseball, while also serving as chairman of the board of Disney, Inc.

National Amusements, Inc., is Sumner Redstone’s giant media conglomerate, which owns over 1,500 cinemas worldwide plus CBS and Viacom (which includes MTV, BET, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, Midway Games, and half of MovieTickets.com). Redstone’s most famous competitor is Time Warner, which has almost matched him in giving to Hillary (as well as to Obama).

Apart from EMILY’s List and the University of California employees, the rest of Clinton’s top backers are the same Wall Street interests and law firms that have supported the Clintons since 1990. And the Clintons have returned the favor by appointing bankers like Robert Rubin to run the Treasury. Of course, this revolving White House/Wall Street door has been spinning for decades, and in next month’s Lowdown we’ll look at who’s most likely to get the top executive slots in a Clinton, McCain, or Obama administration.

Clinton's top fifteen donors

These amounts are the sum of $200 + contributions from employees of these corporations or institutions given either directly or through PACs administered by these entities.

DLA Piper $505,200
Goldman Sachs $445,350
Citigroup Inc $406,752
Morgan Stanley $402,845
Citigroup Inc $331,946
EMILY’s List $323,567
JPMorgan Chase & Co $275,864
Lehman Brothers $269,560
University of California $240,677
Skadden, Arps et al $224,610
Time Warner $207,050
Greenberg Traurig LLP $196,900
Kirkland & Ellis $192,551
PricewaterhouseCoopers $187,000
Merrill Lynch $182,709

Clinton's top ten industries

Amounts are the sum of $200+ contributions from the industries or occupations given by individual and PAC donors.

1 Lawyers/Law Firms $15,425,314
2 Misc Business $8,411,793
3 Securities & Investment $6,971,998
4 Retired $6,937,862
5 Real Estate $6,077,866
6 Business Services $3,922,262
7 Education $3,877,975
8 TV/Movies/Music $3,114,988
9 Health Professionals $2,715,184
10 Misc Finance $2,451,215

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