WASHINGTON — Even as protests over its political influence grow louder, Wall Street is one of the leading sources of money so far in the 2012 race for the White House.
Not surprisingly, the biggest beneficiary has been Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group.
A former chief executive of a successful private investment firm, Romney has attracted $7.5 million from the financial community, the center found. That’s nearly twice as much as President Barack Obama has received from it, and almost a quarter of the $32 million that Romney’s campaign has taken in overall.
“Romney brings with him a lot of connections in the business world and Wall Street community and those connections are paying dividends as he runs for president,” said Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the center. “We noticed that, so far, the biggest financial institutions have all preferred Mitt Romney.”
Indeed, the former Massachusetts governor is the top recipient of campaign cash from employees of the five biggest Wall Street banks. Goldman Sachs gave the most — $352,200. The firm paid a $550 million settlement last year in a fraud case that grew out of the subprime mortgage scandal that helped bring the U.S. economy to near collapse in the late 2000s.
The other banks were Morgan Stanley ($184,800), Bank of America ($112,500), JP Morgan Chase & Co. ($107,250) and Citigroup Inc. ($56,550).
A spokesman for the Romney campaign could not be reached for comment.
Financial support from the big banks and investment houses associated with the 2008 Wall Street meltdown could cut both ways, however.
Anti-Wall Street protests are growing in number across the country and the around the globe, but their political impact remains unclear and will likely depend upon their staying power.
At a minimum, the protests have become a channel for public anger over rising economic inequality and Washington’s ineffectiveness.
“They are a pretty good thermometer for the level of discontent in the country,” said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “But the connection between Republicans and Wall Street and the banks will surely be an election issue next year.”
Romney used to run Bain Capital, a private-equity firm that bought and sold businesses. Wall Street’s largesse might say as much about its comfort level with the possibility of having a former financial-industry colleague in the Oval Office as it does about the sluggish economy and concerns over Obama’s policies.
Obama had raised about $3.9 million in Wall Street contributions as of the end of September. That’s more than 4 percent of his overall haul so far of $89 million, which dwarfs the GOP field.
Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, was third in the Wall Street money chase. A late entrant to the race, Perry has raised about $2 million in support from the financial community. That’s out of the $17.2 million that he has raised to this point.
The Center for Responsive Politics said that financial-sector contributions represent about $1 out of every $9 that Perry has collected.
The Wall Street contributions listed in the candidates’ most recent campaign expense reports are largely from individuals, who can give a maximum of $2,500 for each election. But those donations don’t necessarily account for all of a candidate’s support from the financial industry.
Court rulings in recent years have eased restrictions on giving and triggered the rise of so-called “super PACS,” independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for or against a candidate. In some cases, they can keep the identity of their donors secret.
Most of the leading candidates, including the president, Romney and Perry, have super PACS in their corners. A few months ago, a former executive from Romney’s old investment firm gave a $1 million donation to a super PAC backing his campaign.
“Generally, after a donor has maxed out, that’s the end of the story,” Beckel said. “Now they’re going out and writing additional checks to these new super PACS.”