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These are Wall Street’s new favorite candidates

Rick Newman
·Senior Columnist

Jeb Bush was the master of Wall Street funding during the first half of 2015, but those big-money bets are now shifting to other candidates.

Yahoo Finance analyzed all donations of $10,000 or more to the super PACs supporting each major presidential candidate, and found that Marco Rubio and John Kasich have picked up new funding from Wall Street, while donations to Bush’s super PAC have dropped sharply. Here’s a breakdown of super PAC funding for all of 2015:

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Yahoo Finance
Sources: Federal Election Commission, Yahoo Finance

The Bush super PAC, Right to Rise, hauled in far more Wall Street money than any other group, with more than 1,500 individual donations of $10,000 or more. The second-best funded super PAC, Priorities USA, which supports Democrat Hillary Clinton, pulled in just 73 donations greater than $10,000 in 2015.

But almost all of Bush’s super PAC money came in the first half of 2015—and the huge funding advantage bought him precious little. Bush finished sixth in the Iowa caucus and fourth in the New Hampshire primary, and he ranks in the single digits in national polls. Bush’s inability to attract voters explains why big donations to his super PAC dropped by 85% in the second half of the year. If not for a single huge gift of $10 million from former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, Right to Rise funding would have plunged by 95%.

Here’s how funding changed for all the big super PACs between the first and second half of 2015:

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Yahoo Finance
Sources: Federal Election Commission, Yahoo Finance

While many Wall Street donors gave up on Bush, they gained new interest in Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Wall Street donations to Rubio’s primary super PAC, Conservative Solutions, rose 331% between the first half of 2015 and the second. Prominent donors now backing Rubio include Ken Griffin of the hedge fund Citadel (who's given $2.6 million so far), Paul Singer of the hedge fund Elliot Management ($2.5 million), and Cliff Asness of AQR Capital Management ($1 million).

Kasich’s super PAC, New Day for America, didn’t get started until last July, but in less than 6 months it picked up $3.5 million, about half of it from Wall Street sources. Kasich’s strong second-place showing in New Hampshire gave a booster shot to his campaign, which may now be hauling in money at a faster pace—especially since several other Republicans have dropped out.

Kasich dissociates himself from Wall Street—even though he worked for Lehman Brothers in Ohio, from 2001 to 2008, when the overleveraged bank collapsed. His claims of being just a little guy at an insignificant field office may come under scrutiny as Kasich’s fundraising ramps up. His super PAC got 51% of its cash from Wall Street sources in 2015, with big donors including billionaire fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller (who gave $150,000) and investment banker Herb Allen of Allen & Co. ($50,000). The overall dollar amounts are lower than for the Bush and Clinton super PACs, but that, in theory, makes Kasich more beholden to money-industry donors than other candidates, since he has fewer other donors to turn to.

Cruz has the most unusual arrangement with Wall Street. His wife Heidi is a Goldman Sachs executive based in Houston (who’s on leave during the campaign), and four Cruz super PACs got 57% of their money from financial-industry sources. But those super PACs are funded almost entirely by three wealthy donors, including investor Robert Mercer of the New York hedge fund Renaissance Technologies and energy investor Toby Neugebauer, who operates a Houston private-equity firm. So while the Cruz super PACs get the highest portion of money from finance professionals, his donor network is wafer thin, compared with Bush’s.

Even more interesting is that Cruz's three big donors gave all of their money in the first half of the year, and none in the second. That could mean they're standing by to pony up more, but only when it's needed. Or, it could mean they've given all they care to, and Cruz needs to find other big donors. 

The two iconoclasts are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who essentially don't rely on super PACs at all. (Pop-up super PACs may raise and spend small amounts on each candidate's behalf, but Trump and Sanders, unlike the other candidates, have said they're not relying on them in any way. ) Trump, as the whole world knows, is self-funding his campaign, while Sanders is relying on a large number of donors giving relatively small amounts.

These figures only include money given to super PACs—not to the candidates’ campaign committees, since campaign contributions are capped at $5,400 per donor. Wealthy donors hoping to have an outsized impact on the election typically work through super PACs, as there are no limits on donations. In terms of regular campaign donations, Clinton is the top fundraiser, with about $116 million hauled in so far. Less than 5% of that comes from financial-industry donors. The next best fundraiser is Democrat Bernie Sanders, with $75 million in donations (and about 0.2% of it from Wall Street sources). Among Republicans, Ben Carson’s campaign has raised the most, with $54 million—just 0.8% from people in the financial industry. If Wall Street’s going to buy the election, they better settle on a winning candidate soon.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.