Democrat Barack Obama, who has decried Wall Street profits and CEO pay, has tapped a vein of donors among bankers and financiers who have given generously and helped drive his successful presidential campaign sprint for cash.
Among the firms whose employees gave the most to Obama in the second quarter of the year were Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan. Their money, much of it the maximum donation allowed by law, placed Obama in competition with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for high-finance dollars in her own backyard of New York.
For Obama, the money represents one side of a fundraising and support-building equation. The other is the campaign's outreach to small donors &
a concerted effort to build a broad network of contributors who give less than $200.
The campaign has built that network aggressively, charging $25 a person to attend rallies and even counting buyers of Obama T-shirts and bumper stickers as donors.
In all, Obama came out of the first six months of the year as the top fundraiser among all candidates and is sitting atop the largest amount of cash on hand in either the Republican or Democratic fields.
"It's really astounding to me that this underdog candidate is way out ahead in fundraising," said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. "He's running neck-and-neck with everybody else in large contributions. His advantage is in the small contributions."
Obama, marching with workers striking at a hotel in Chicago, said his financial success is a function of momentum.
"The fundraising is an expression of the enthusiasm at the grass-roots levels," he said.
So far this year, Obama has collected $16.4 million in donations under $200 &
that is 29 percent of his total primary election contributions of $56.8 million. The small donations have come in through the Internet, in the mail and from those attending about a dozen rallies in cities across the country.
Attendees count toward the 250,000 donors that the campaign says it has amassed this year. So do online purchasers of merchandise who pay $20.08 for an Obama T-shirt or $2.50 for a campaign placard. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said such small donors account for "less of half of — percent of all donors."
"A lot of those folks have given otherwise," Burton said. "It's probably even a smaller number than that."
The challenge for Obama now is to turn those donors into a volunteer force that will make a difference in early presidential nomination contests, especially Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Malbin said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean used such grass-roots supporters effectively for fundraising during his 2004 presidential bid, but was unable to convert them into activists. President Bush, on the other hand, was less successful using the Internet to raise money as he was in building neighborhood networks.
"Obama appears to be trying to put the two halves of the circle together," he said.
In contrast, only 10 percent of Clinton's $39.4 million in primary contributions came from donations of $200 or less. About three-fifths of her primary donations come from donors who have given the maximum $2,300 for the primary, putting pressure on her campaign to expand her donor base. Clinton had $3 million in debts at the end of the quarter, but her $33 million cash on hand almost matched Obama's money in the bank.
As he builds up his grassroots, Obama is hardly ignoring big donors himself. Nearly 40 percent of his total fundraising has come from contributors who have given the legal limit.
During the first three months of the year, donors employed by the securities and investment industries gave Clinton $1.75 million and Obama $1.38 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Clinton scored an early coup by winning the support of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, a former Bush fundraiser. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett threw her a fundraiser in New York in late June. (Buffett says he plans to have one for Obama as well.) She made the cover of Fortune above a headline, "Business Loves Hillary!"
Judging by the companies whose employees have given to his campaign, Obama appears to have improved his standing in the second quarter. He received $139,810 from Lehman Brothers employees, including $4,600 from company president Joseph M. Gregory. Goldman Sachs employees accounted for $80,000 and Citigroup for $61,000 of his contributions, his financial report for the quarter shows.
The money comes even though Obama's statements have not always been kind to Wall Street. He has called for taxing anticipated future profits of some financial managers at income-tax rates of up to 35 percent instead of the current 15 percent, the rate for capital gains. It's a view embraced by other Democratic candidates as well, including Clinton.
"Folks who support him at all economic levels know exactly what kind of president he will be," Burton said. "They are drawn to him because they are attracted to the way he is going to change Washington.
Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.
Obama fundraising, from bankers to donors, gets second look