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Wall Street Is A Big Source Of Campaign Cash For Democrats

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democrat Joe Biden's campaign has raised a lot more than President Trump's campaign in recent months. Some of the money has come from people in finance who are increasingly supporting Democrats. NPR's Jim Zarroli has been taking a look.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: At hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer lost his longshot bid to become the Democratic nominee for president this year. But in his concession speech, he made clear he's not walking away from the party.

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TOM STEYER: And let me say this. I, of course, will be supporting - I've said from the beginning, every Democrat is a million times better than Trump. Trump is a disaster.

(CHEERING)

ZARROLI: Steyer is the Democrats' single largest donor. He's funneled some $54 million into Democratic campaigns and groups this year, not including the money he's spent on his own campaign. Contributions such as that have helped former Vice President Biden amass a huge campaign war chest, says political scientist Brian Schaffner of Tufts University.

BRIAN SCHAFFNER: Since he got the nomination, especially in the last few months, he's seen a surge in fundraising. And I think that's helped him basically open up a big lead in terms of cash on hand relative to Trump.

ZARROLI: And Wall Street has become a big source of campaign cash for the party. The second biggest Democratic donor is a hedge fund guy, too. He's Donald Sussman of Paloma Partners. In this election, people who work in finance have given $57 million to Biden and just $13 million to Trump. Schaffner says that didn't used to be the case. Until 2008, the industry reliably split its money between the parties.

SCHAFFNER: You see less of that now. You see that industries have actually become more consistent in which party they give to in recent elections.

ZARROLI: Schaffner says like everything else about politics, campaign fundraising has become much more polarized. Teachers and lawyers and tech workers give to Democrats. The number of prominent Silicon Valley executives who support Republicans can be counted on two fingers. They're billionaire investor Peter Thiel and Larry Ellison of Oracle. But Republicans have their strongholds, too, and they tend to be more old-line industries such as manufacturing and oil and gas. President Trump may have grown up a long way from the Oklahoma oil fields, but to oil tycoon and Republican donor Harold Hamm, he's a kindred spirit. Here's Hamm on Fox Business News two years ago.

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HAROLD HAMM: He's an entrepreneur like the rest of us, and he's made it the hard way. He's done it himself.

ZARROLI: A lot of Trump's critics would take issue with the notion that Trump is self-made. What's beyond dispute is that big oil loves Trump and his party. The industry has given more than $150 million to candidates in this year's elections, and more than two-thirds of it went to Republicans. And Trump loves big oil. When the economy collapsed last March, oil executives were among the first people he brought to the White House.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll work this out, and we'll get our energy business back. I'm with you 1,000%. It's a great business. It's a very vital business.

ZARROLI: The only part of the energy business that doesn't prefer Trump are solar and wind companies. Republicans do fare much better with donors from agriculture, such as poultry and tobacco companies, and they clean up in casinos, largely because of a single big donor, Las Vegas Sands chief executive Sheldon Adelson. But that hasn't been enough to overcome Biden's steep fundraising advantage this year. And the problem for Republicans is there's not a lot of time left to change that. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRAMEWORKS' "SAND AND STONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.