Recently released data on campaign and Super Pac giving shows Mitt Romney has continued his practice, which I first reported and explained back in December, of receiving the vast majority of Wall Street campaign donations. As Sam Stein and Paul Blumenthal reported in the Huffington Post, “In the fourth quarter of 2011, Romney raised $1.49 million from employees of those 68 [most politically active] companies while the president's reelection campaign raised just $127,000—an 11.7-to-1 ratio. It was the most lucrative quarter for Romney yet.” Romney’s Super Pac was even more tilted towards big money donors than his campaign. As Ari Berman reported in The Nation, “According to the latest disclosure reports, the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, raised $30 million in 2011, 98 percent from donors who gave $25,000 or more. The PAC got $10 million from ten donors who gave a million bucks each.”
Given that the fourth quarter of 2011 saw Romney lag such absurd candidates as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich in the polls, it might seem strange that Romney’s fundraising has only gotten stronger. Ironically, a boom in polls and media coverage for an alternative Republican actually may help Romney rake in campaign cash from business interests.
Typically it is assumed that donors are largely concerned with betting on a winner, and so positive results beget fundraising returns. But the GOP primary has largely defied that conventional wisdom. Romney has raised money steadily through ups and downs. But Michele Bachmann, who briefly led the polls, never raised much at all. Herman Cain got some grassroots donations when he was leading the GOP pack, but he never picked up a lot of big corporate cash. On the other hand Rick Perry raised money at a healthy clip despite a polling trajectory that went straight downward from the moment he entered the race.
This has implications for who will raise money in this quarter as well. Gingrich enjoyed a polling boom in early December, followed by a flurry of attention around Ron Paul and Rick Santorum as it became apparent they were rising in Iowa. But none of the remaining candidates has ever competed with Romney monetarily. When the fundraising numbers for the first quarter of 2012 become available in April, they will almost certainly show that Gingrich’s surge around the South Carolina primary, and Santorum’s widely predicted boost from winning the Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado “beauty pageants,” never translated into a shift in donations from the GOP’s corporate wing.
Why is that? Because big-money Republicans are afraid of nominating extreme ideologues such as Bachmann, Paul and Santorum, or gaffe-prone philanderers such as Cain and Gingrich. “Among the other [Republicans] who are running, from the standpoint of many on Wall Street, they’re not very attractive,” Peter Wallison, co-director of the American Enterprise Institute’s program on financial policy studies, told me. “Many don’t seem to be qualified.” What they want is a reliable, predictable servant of corporate interests, and someone who can beat President Obama. Depending on which corporate sector you hail from, that candidate may have initially been Romney or Perry. Once Perry became a national laughingstock, Romney was their only remaining option. (This also explains why Romney has raised more from lobbyists than all his components combined.) When someone they find unacceptable poses a threat to Romney, it actually encourages the GOP establishment to rally around Romney, not his opponent.
The attacks on Romney’s experience in private equity from Gingrich and Perry also helped the financial industry coalesce around Romney. One of Romney’s most attractive qualities to Wall Street is that he offers them a narrative of the last few years in which they are not to blame for the financial meltdown and ensuing recession. As I wrote in December: “Perhaps the most important thing Republicans and Romney offer Wall Street is moral absolution.” When Romney’s opponents impugn the morality of buying companies and laying off workers to generate profits or increased stock prices for the owners, Wall Street’s instinct is to circle the wagons.
People who work on Wall Street identified Obama’s rhetoric depicting bankers as greedy “fat cats” as what drove them into Romney’s arms. When Perry called private equity “vulture capitalism” and Gingrich suggested Romney should return his earnings from Bain Capital, it could only help Romney raise money. If Romney faces Obama in the general election, his record at Bain will be criticized by the Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee and affiliated Super Pacs. (They are already doing so; it’s just getting less attention because the internal dynamics of the Republican primary remain more interesting.) That is sure to help Romney continue to rake in donations from thin-skinned financiers.