A similar trajectory is evident at the presidential level. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry received less than 40 percent of the health care industry's contributions to the party nominees; in 2008, Barack Obama collected 72 percent of the industry's donations. Kerry took in less than a quarter of the auto manufacturers' donations; Obama received 62 percent. And Kerry's campaign received only 17 percent of contributions from electric utilities; Obama captured 56 percent of their donations last year.
Though they have started to neutralize the GOP's financial advantage among these groups, Democrats may still have room to grow. The yardstick might be highs that Republican fundraisers enjoyed during their time in the majority. In 1996, the Republicans' first election with House and Senate majorities since 1954, they collected almost 63 percent of health care's total donations. Pharmaceutical interests directed more than two-thirds of their contributions to Republicans that year. The same story played out in the auto and energy sectors. Auto manufacturers gave 68 percent of their money to the GOP in 1996. And Republicans received 69 percent of utilities' donations en route to collecting 76 percent of the energy sector's total contributions.
Early numbers from 2010 election fundraising posted by the Center suggest that Congressional Democrats are approaching and even exceeding the donation shares that Republicans once experienced. So far in this cycle, Democrats are receiving about 66 percent of both the $3.5 million donated by health care companies and the $1.1 million donated by utilities. (Automakers have made negligible contributions to the 2010 race.) Democrats have even pulled ahead of Republican candidates in donations from the overall energy sector, defying conventional wisdom by raising $1.2 million from big energy so far, compared to $850,000 for Republicans. Even the oil and gas industry is hedging its bets, directing 43 per cent of its contributions so far toward Democrats.
With industry, Democrats are making the argument that they are better off working with the majority to shape legislation than joining Republicans in adamant opposition to Obama's plans. The message to business from Congressional Democrats, Elmendorf says, is that if they don't work with the party "it is going to be a vastly different bill; if you stay in the tent, we are going to get a more moderate bill."
So far, Obama and Congressional Democrats have strengthened their ties to these industries without inciting a backlash from the traditional party interests-environmentalists, consumer groups, labor-dubious of them. That challenge will grow more complex as cap-and-trade legislation continues its advance through Congress and both chambers begin seriously considering health care reform, which will directly pit traditional Democratic interests like labor against the medical industry on questions such as establishing a public competitor to private insurance companies.
If Obama and Congressional Democrats can continue to balance those interests as effectively as they have so far, the legislative, political and financial rewards could be substantial. For the moment, at least, key components of big business seem happy to stay in the Democratic tent, and the Democrats' campaign coffers are showing it.--