Enter hedge funds and private equity firms.
Traders, bankers and other sell-side refugees are fleeing the crackdowns on prop trading and excessive compensation facing the sell side in favor of life on the buy side. Meanwhile, managers in hedge funds and private equity firms typically receive in lieu of a salary a share of the profits from investments, or “carried interest.” This type of compensation often is a gold mine because it’s taxed at the same rate as capital gains, 15 percent, instead of the higher 35 percent income tax rate.
In fact, carried interest recently took some flak in the vice presidential debate because of this perceived loophole. “The biggest loophole they take advantage of is the carried interest loophole,” said Vice President Joe Biden, speaking of Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. “They exempt that.”
Romney surely has profited from carried interest through his private equity firm Bain Capital, but he has been ambivalent about whether he will close the loophole if elected. President Obama has proposed closing the loophole in his 2013 budget.
Given the President’s position on carried interest, it’s no surprise that 76 percent of contributions in this election to the main political party candidates from the top 20 security and investment industry campaign contributors have gone to Republicans. Excluding this year, Republicans had received on average 50 percent of contributions since 1992 (see chart, next page). It seems that hedge funds and private equity firms are betting that Romney won’t bite the hands that feed him.
But a closer look at the breakdown of contributions this year reveals another unusual trend. Fifty one percent of the contributions from the top 20 security and investment industry contributors aren’t going to Democrats or Republicans. Instead, they are heading to what The Center for Responsive Politics refers to as “third-party candidates and outside spending groups not identified as liberal or conservative.” This ambiguous group could be a product of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allows organizations to spend money on political ads as long as they do so independently of candidates. These organizations often don’t provide complete or immediate disclosure of their donors. But wherever this money is going, the recipients sure are getting some heavy support.
Up next: Looking at the top 20 contributors more closely and their contributions over the years.
DATA SOURCE: The Center for Responsive Politics
METHODOLOGY: The numbers on this page are based on contributions from PACs, soft money donors, and individuals giving $200 or more. (Only those groups giving $5,000 or more are listed here.) In many cases, the organizations themselves did not donate; rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.