VCs Score Among Top Obama Donors, While Buyout Pros Do Same for Romney


Private equity seems to be a more politically divided industry than one would expect.

Among big political donors, buyout investors seem more likely to support Mitt Romney and Republican campaigns. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, show up prominently in lists of top backers for President Obama and the Democratic Party.

That’s a general takeaway after perusing several lists recently published by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance research group.  In particular, I looked at a list of top disclosed donors in 2012 to “outside spending groups” including Super PACs, published last week. I also looked at a list of “bundlers” – the term used for politically connected people who raise contributions from multiple donors after hitting personal contribution limits, based on information released by the Obama campaign.

Now, before getting into who-gave-money-to-who, it’s fair to note that these are incomplete lists. The list of big donors, for instance, doesn’t include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has reportedly put $10 million into a pro-Gingrich super PAC. And with the general election still 10 months away, much of donation cash has yet to come in.

Still, some patterns are apparent from the data so far. For instance, private equity insiders may not like all the attention the Romney campaign has brought to their industry and its controversial carried interest tax treatment. But when it comes to campaign contributions, the Bain Capital co-founder and other Republican candidates remain preferred recipients of the industry’s largest individual donors.

The center report shows that among the largest disclosed individual donors (contributing sums ranging from $100,000 to $5.6 million), more than 10% come from the private equity industry. Several donors are names one might expect to see on the list, such as Romney’s former colleagues at Bain Capital. Or Peter Thiel, who made headlines last week for his contributions to a Super PAC supporting Ron Paul.

The biggest donors? No surprise, Bain Capital principals provided the biggest chunk of change. The largest single donation from a private equity donor came from  Paul & Sandra Edgerly, tied for 7th place overall,  who donated $1 million to groups that generally support conservative candidates, according to the center. Paul Edgerley is a managing director at Bain, and Sandra Edgerley was a former director of recruiting there. Other Bain contributors include managing directors Stephen Zide, Stephen Barnes, Domenic Ferrante and John Cannaughton, each of whom contributed $250,000.

But to find the bigger venture donors, I had to look to the list of “bundlers” released by the Obama campaign. At least three venture capitalists –  Core Capital Managing Director Tom Wheeler, Insight Venture Partners Managing Director Deven Parekh, and former Hummer Winblad Partner Doug Hickey – have raised upwards of $500,000 in contributions. Steve Westly, founder of cleantech venture firm Westly Group, and Shervin Pishevar, of Menlo Ventures, raised between $200,000 and $500,000. Hummer Winblad’s Mark Gorenberg, along with Wendy Wanderman, are listed as bundling $100,000 to $200,000, as is Mark Goodman of cleantech investor Terrawatt Ventures.

There were some buyout industry representatives on the Obama bundler list as well, including  Josh Steiner, a senior advisor at Quadrangle Group and Jonathan Lavine, who listed as his employer a name one usually associates with the Romney camp: Bain Capital.