NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 24, 2008

According to a recent analysis by the New York Times, many of the large donations ($25,000 or more) to the presidential candidates have far exceeded normal individual contribution limits to both the candidates and joint fundraising committees that benefit their respective parties.  And many of these large donors come from industries with interests in Washington such as the securities and investment industry, including Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG.

Yet, there are notable differences in the industries from which Barack Obama and John McCain drew their largest contributions:

  • McCain drew a slightly larger percentage of his big donor money from the financial industry, about a fifth of his total, followed by real estate, donors who identified themselves as retired and the oil and gas industry.
  • Obama drew the most from retirees and lawyers, followed by those in real estate.
  • He also drew a significant amount from big givers in the entertainment industry, who contributed relatively little to McCain.
  • In contrast, donations from the private equity and hedge fund industries accounted for a significantly greater amount of the giving from McCain's largest donors.
  • But a dozen employees at Goldman Sachs wrote checks of $25,000 or more to Obama, while only 3 top executives of Merrill Lynch wrote checks to McCain.

Moreover, Obama's campaign has leaned on wealthy benefactors to contribute up to $33,100 at a time to complement his army of small donors over the Internet as he bypassed public financing for the general election.  More than 600 donors contributed $25,000 or more to him in September alone, roughly 3 times the number who did the same for McCain.

However, campaign finance watchdogs call this a worrisome trend, saying the heavy emphasis on such arrangements bring candidates one further into the embrace of major donors; thus, undermining the whole spirit of the system, says the New York Times.

Source: Michael Luo and Griff Palmer, "In Fine Print, a Proliferation of Large Donors," New York Times, October 20, 2008.

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