Four years ago, Chicago's favorite adopted son was the toast of the town, popular enough to draw money even from typical GOP backers. Four years later Barack Obama is raising even more money, but he's having a harder time of it with some of Chicago's wealthiest people, as Carol Felsenthal noted last week:
On the GOP side, ranking number nine with $2.3 million for Mitt Romney and other Republican PACs and candidates, is Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin (with his wife Anne). (In 2008, the 43-year-old founder and CEO of Citadel, gave to both McCain and Obama; this year he appears not to be hedging his bets, but rather putting his money behind Romney.) A call to Griffin, a financial backer of Rahm Emanuel, was not returned by post time.
Griffin is famously quiet about his wealth and politics, letting his money speak for itself—I wouldn't read too much into his financial support of Emanuel, as local Republicans have long backed Democratic powers-that-be in the city, because the powers-that-be are always Democratic. As a donor, Griffin qualifies as lean-Republican, though he usually kicks into Dems, including $70k to Blago in 2002 and 2003. So it's a bit of a surprise that he's rolling with Romney and Ryan this time around. In the Trib, Melissa Ryan has more, including his support of Paul Ryan and his rationale:
Among his largest donors, perhaps none are more important than Kenneth and Anne Griffin, the married hedge fund managers, who top the congressman's local contributor list at $33,600 combined. This figure includes the Griffins' donations to Prosperity PAC, Ryan's political action committee.
According to a transcript of the Economic Club event, Griffin introduced Ryan and said he had "successfully defied Abraham Lincoln's dictum that a man must choose between being a politician worried about the next election and a statesman who's worried about the next generation."
Griffin is also one of the larger donors to American Crossroads (Karl Rove's GOP super-PAC), Restore Our Future (
a James Bond movie kickstarter Romney's super-PAC), although Griffin's super-PAC donations have been outpaced by local Democratic donor Fred Eyechaner of Newsweb.
Last week Paul Merrion of Crain's went even farther into Chicago's business community and the big donors who Romney has peeled away from Barack Obama—as Merrion details, the numbers are as staggering as the reasons are pro forma:
“In 2008, I had precisely the same motivation everyone in the country felt” as Obama backers, says Susan Crown, a vice president of Chicago's Henry Crown & Co., who is a director at Northern Trust Co. and chairman of the executive committee at Illinois Tool Works Inc. “Hope and change and future and excitement. He's a very smart guy, very charismatic, articulate—the energy was great. Unfortunately, all those things turned to broken promises.”
“He believes in big government and centralization; I believe in decentralization,” says Ms. Crown, who has hosted three Romney fundraisers totaling more than $5.5 million with her husband, William Kunkler, also an executive at the family holding company. “Businesses are holding on to cash and not investing because they're uncertain about what the future holds.”
What changed? Keep in mind that Mitt Romney is part of their industry—degrees from Harvard Business School and Harvard Law, a wildly successful investor whose experience in finance is much, much more extensive than his very brief record in public service. You have to go back to Herbert Hoover (Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge) or Warren G. Harding (a single term as senator) to find a president with as few years spent in the public sector as Romney would have. That familiarity is very powerful: Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer and constitutional law earned him a great deal of support from people who thought it would be relevant to issues of poverty and wartime constitutional abuses. Romney's big-money donors should proceed with caution, however; these things don't always work out as planned.
Photograph: The White House