The 2008 presidential race is shaping up to be the costliest in history, with an expected price tag of more than $1 billion. So where else would candidates turn for that kind of cash but Wall Street?
Investment bankers, leveraged-buyout artists and hedge fund kingpins are lining up to back a variety of Republicans and Democrats; the latter led the fundraising tally in the first quarter, gleaning $78 million, compared with the GOP's $51 million.
Although a sector-by-sector breakdown of who gave what won't be made public until midmonth, when the Federal Election Commission releases candidate filings, data from the end of 2006 shows early links between Wall Street wealth and those who would be president.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton -- who raised $26 million in the first quarter, more than any other candidate -- has been relying on a who's who of the private equity establishment. According to her FEC filings from 2006, her coffers were filled by a bevy of prominent buyout allies, several of whom were big Bill Clinton supporters. These included Quadrangle Group's Steve Rattner, Apax Partners' Alan Patricof, Lee Equity's Thomas H. Lee, Evercore's Roger Altman (who was deputy Treasury secretary in Bill Clinton's first term) and Warburg Pincus's Bo Cutter. Also in Clinton's corner: Richard Perry, founder of investment firm Perry Capital; Marc Lasry, head of hedge fund Avenue Capital (which employs her daughter, Chelsea); and Thomas Steyer, founder of hedge fund firm Farallon Capital Management.
Perhaps because so many established names are crowding the Clinton campaign, younger financial barons are flocking to Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who reported a stunning $25 million as his first-quarter total. In the 30- to 40-something age group, Obama's early supporters included Eric Mindich, head of hedge fund Eton Park; Daniel Loeb, founder of hedge fund Third Point; and James Rubin, a partner at JPMorgan's One Equity Partners and son of Clinton Treasury secretary Robert Rubin. Obama also persuaded a number of Bill Clinton supporters to switch sides, among them financier George Soros and hedge fund giants James Torrey of Torrey Funds and Orin Kramer of Boston Provident Partners. Other Obama backers include Warren Buffett and Ray McGuire, Citigroup's co-head of investment banking.
FEC filings show that these donors wrote checks for $2,300 each, the maximum allowed for candidates in the primary season. Political action committee donations are limited to $5,000.
More important than the individual contributions is the ability of such high-profile financiers to get their wealthy friends and colleagues to give similar amounts, a process known in the political trade as "bundling."
Despite the financial industry's historical affinity for the Republican Party, 2006 FEC data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that many large hedge funds are lining up behind Democratic candidates. D.E. Shaw gave $489,500 to the Democrats --mostly candidates for the November congressional campaign -- and a scant $29,900 to the Republicans. Renaissance Technologies' employees donated $358,275 to the Democratic Party and $23,700 to the GOP. Of Farallon Capital's $369,999 total, 96 percent went to the Democratic camp. Among 2006 hedge fund contributors to politicians who have since entered the presidential race, 11 of the 17 largest donors gave exclusively to Democratic candidates.
Not that Republicans are thirsting for cash. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's $21 million first-quarter take might be partially chalked up to his former life in private equity: He founded Bain Capital. Along with a raft of former Bain colleagues, Romney's other big contributors in 2006 were William Harrison, former chairman of JPMorgan Chase; Donald Trump; and private equity titan Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group.
With $15 million, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has assembled the second-biggest war chest among GOP candidates, thanks to supporters like T. Boone Pickens and Paul Singer. Employees of Pickens's BP Capital hedge fund gave some $50,000 of the $4 million Giuliani raised last year; Singer, along with his employees and partners at hedge fund Elliott Associates gave a whopping $140,000 during the same period.
Interestingly, Arizona Senator John McCain, who raised only $12.5 million in the first quarter, in 2006 received contributions from big names now identified with other camps, among them Schwarzman, Trump and Pickens -- a reminder that many successful investors always hedge their bets. -- Clay Risen