Throughout the 2012 election cycle Republican candidate Mitt Romney has made ham-handed efforts at playing a populist. His standard applause line on the stump is an appeal to nationalism, that he will “never apologize for America.” He criticizes President Obama for “taking advice from the Harvard faculty lounge,” even though Romney himself holds law and business degrees from Harvard and counts Harvard professors among his economic and foreign policy advisers.
But from a funding standpoint, Romney’s campaign looks more like a third world oligarchy than a populist insurgency. Jetting to fundraisers in Manhattan and London, Romney has raked in donation from the most elite of financial institutions. His support from Wall Street has allowed him to build a sizable cash advantage, which pays for the expansive field organizing and advertising that should enable him to outgun his opponents through the primaries.
With the exception of Texas Governor Rick Perry, no other candidate has comparable corporate support. Through the second quarter of 2011, before Perry entered the race, Romney raised $17.6 million, more than all his GOP opponents combined. In the third quarter, ending on September 30, Romney piled on an additional $13.9 million. In December he returned to New York for a series of exclusive fundraisers, including a $2,500-per-person breakfast at Cipriani with executives such as former Goldman Sachs CEO John Whitehead and well-known hedge fund manager John Paulson, and a dinner at the Park Avenue apartment of Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm.
Whereas President Obama raised 45 percent of his campaign funds through the third quarter from donors who gave less than $200, only 9 percent of Romney’s money came from small donors. While right-wing insurgents like Michele Bachmann rely on small donations coming in over the Internet, Romney collects checks from a small group of rich businessmen. And they are indeed overwhelmingly men: 70 percent of them, compared to 56 percent of Obama’s donors. More than 8,000 donors have given Romney the maximum of $2,500, compared to less than 6,000 maximum donors for Obama. As of the end of the third quarter, the two candidates now competing with Romney for primacy in the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, had raised $12.6 million and $2.9 million for the entire cycle, respectively. Both were far more dependent on small donors than Romney.
Perry’s ability to summon vast sums immediately after jumping into the race left him with comparable cash on hand to Romney at the end of the third quarter (around $15 million each). But the key to Perry’s corporate fundraising success is more straightforward than Romney’s. His donor base draws heavily from energy (oil and gas) and waste management sectors, and his domestic policy agenda reflects those interests—opposing environmental regulations, for example. “If you put money in Perry’s purse, he’ll create policies you need,” says Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.