Has Obama Lost Wall Street and Business Donors?

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Four years ago, I did a story about how three “pioneers,” or top bundlers for President George W. Bush, were giving money to Barack Obama.

[Madison Dearborn Partners founder and then deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago John] Canning says he’s fed up with the Republican Party. “It’s become a party that’s taken Neanderthal positions on things like stem-cell research and global warming,” Canning, who was appointed to the Fed post in 2004, said in an interview. “I no longer find myself on the same page.”

To Canning, 62, the party once represented individual rights. Then in 2005, the Republican-led Congress intervened in an effort to keep Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, alive against her husband’s wishes. The move was symbolic of Republican positions on social issues that Canning says he found increasingly frustrating.

As Canning told me at the time, “Things like stem cell research and Terry Schiavo and global warming weren’t really issues seven or eight years ago and have become much more important issues now. So most of the issues that were Republican — state rights, individual rights, economic tax policies, which I’m still a firm believer in” have been subjugated. The other two pioneers who gave to Obama, Staples Inc. founder Thomas Stemberg and Jayne Carr Thompson who runs a Chicago communications company, voiced similar opinions.

Fast forward four years. Canning, who did not return calls, gave $7,500 to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s PAC last year. Stemberg gave $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC and is backing his prospective bid for the GOP nomination and Thompson remains undecided about who she’ll support in 2012 – and which party. “I vote and I raise money on the basis of what I think of the candidate – not the party,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “I have no current commitments.”

Stemberg has already made up his mind. “I don’t think President Obama understands business,” he said in a telephone interview. “His Administration has been largely devoid of business experience unless you count Larry Summer’s quick stop at a hedge fund. Mitt Romney understands how jobs are created.”

As reelect campaign-manager-to-be Jim Messina crisscrosses the country reconnecting with Obama’s massive honeycomb of wealthy donors from 2008, some wonder if Wall Street and big business donors have given up on Obama – and without them how does he raise the $1 billion experts predict this campaign could cost? JP Morgan scion Jamie Dimon warned Obama publically and privately to stop kicking the rhetorical snot out of Wall Street. And big business, in the form of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been on a jihad against the majority of Obama’s policies since nearly the get go. So, has the well dried up? Have Obama’s rich donors gone the way of Stemberg and Canning?

The truth is, most are actually in Thompson’s camp. “It’s still spectacularly early and as the economy continues to improve I think you’re going to see a lot more folks from Wall Street sticking with the President – Wall Street rarely bets against the guy who sets their regulations unless it’s a sure thing,” says Kirk Dornbush, a top Obama fundraiser. And a lot will depend on who the Republican candidate will be. “If Sarah Palin’s the nominee,” Dornbush added, “we’ll break ‘08 fundraising records.”

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