WASHINGTON — Get ready for what could be the $2 billion election.
With presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican Party reportedly aiming to raise $800 million — and spend up to $1 billion — and President Obama and the Democrats out to do the same or even better, the presidential race is turning into one not only about the issues but also about which candidate, which party and which political action committees have the deepest pockets.
The Romney camp said Friday that it raised nearly $12.6 million in March, which news reports said was the best fund-raising month of his campaign. That’s a slight uptick from the $12 million in contributions he reported in February, although his fund-raising still lags behind that of Obama, who raised a combined $53 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee last month.
Fashion industry executives are doing their part in building the coffers of the two candidates, although so far they have given more to Obama than any of the Republican presidential candidates that vied for their party’s nomination, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records in this election cycle, which began in January 2011, done for WWD by the Center for Responsive Politics. And the amount of money from other traditional backers of the Democrats as Hollywood, the tech sector, and some segments of Wall Street reportedly declines, the fashion world could play an even more vital role in Obama’s reelection bid.
According to the most recent detailed figures available, in February department store, mass retail and apparel brand executives and employees gave a total of $435,160 to the presidential race, 53.9 percent to Obama and 45.9 percent to Republicans, according to the center’s analysis. Contributions from executives and employees in the analysis included such companies as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Levi Strauss & Co., Liz Claiborne Inc., The Jones Group Inc., VF Corp., Hot Topic Inc., Ann Inc., Urban Outfitters Inc., Neiman Marcus Inc., Nike Inc., Kohl’s Corp., the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp., Limited Brands Inc. and The Talbots Inc.
Obama netted $234,600, or 53.9 percent of all the industry’s contributions. Several designers and industry executives have given personally to Obama so far, including Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch and Michael Kors, as well as Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos., and Robert Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss. Each of them gave the maximum individual contribution of $5,000.
Burch is also participating in the Obama-Biden campaign’s “Runway to Win” initiative, creating merchandise that will raise funds for the president’s reelection efforts. Narciso Rodriguez, who participated in a similar campaign initiative four years ago, is again involved in Runway to Win.
“I was involved in the first election campaign and was very happy to participate again,” Rodriguez said. “I believe in President Obama and all the good he has done for the country.”
“The fashion industry is centered in New York and Los Angeles, which tend to be Democratic strongholds,” said Phillip Swagel, professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland. “That would explain the President’s fund-raising strength. After that, Romney’s strength makes sense as well, since he is running as a pro-business candidate.”
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said: “Barack Obama is doing very well in collecting the majority of money despite the fact that he is the only Democrat [versus]…a long list of Republicans. I think the fashion industry — individual designers and celebrities from the fashion industry — are very likely to lean liberal.”
Krumholz said individual donations typically are based on ideological positions and beliefs more than candidates’ positions on economic policies. She said the president has also likely gotten a boost from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“It helps his campaign that Michelle Obama as First Lady has embraced and showcased new American designers,” Krumholz said. “It is exciting for the industry to have that kind of high-profile and dynamic model.”
Romney was ranked second in February in terms of fashion industry contribution recipients and netted $137,126, or 31.5 percent of the total contributions in the analysis. Romney received support from executives including Emanuel Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH Corp., who gave $2,500; Paul Marciano, vice chairman and ceo of Guess Inc., who gave $2,500, and Ed Emma, president and chief operating officer of Jockey International, who gave $450.
“To the degree we are talking about New York City celebrity designers versus corporations that have primarily developed multifaceted retail empires, I think it is logical to see a more conservative approach with a focus on economic interests [in favor of Romney] as opposed to social issues driving their politics,” said Krumholz. “Of course, you can’t ignore the role that gay rights advocates play from within the industry, which takes a much different view of the Obama camp than the Romney campaign.”