News Column

Hispanic Donors See Political Clout Rising

November 12, 2012

By Fredreka Schouten


As a resident of a U.S. territory, Andres Lopez could not vote for President Obama on Nov. 6, but the Puerto Rico-based lawyer found another way to help propel Obama to a second term: raising campaign money.

Hispanics overwhelmingly backed Obama at the polls, pushing him to victory in such key states as Colorado and Florida. Nationally, Obama won 71% of the Latino vote to Republican Mitt Romney's 27%. And behind the scenes, Lopez and a cadre of wealthy Hispanic business owners, entertainers, lawyers and financiers tapped their connections to collect roughly $30 million in small and large donations for Obama's re-election, Lopez said.

The sum is a tiny fraction of the $1billion collected by Obama and the Democratic National Committee since Jan. 1, 2011, but it illustrates one way Latino interests are increasing their political clout. They could leverage their influence to push Obama to act on issues important to the nation's fastest-growing minority community -- such as comprehensive immigration legislation -- and to seek an increase in the number of Hispanic political appointees in his second term.

"This has no parallel in American politics," Lopez said of the Obama campaign's 2012 Hispanic fundraising. "The ability to deliver on our goals has earned us a place at the table."

These elite fundraisers -- known as bundlers for their ability to assemble donations from business associates, relatives and friends -- are crucial to candidates' efforts to fund costly television advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Among the top Hispanic fundraisers who made up the Futuro Fund, as the 2012 fundraising effort was called: actress Eva Longoria, Texas architect Henry Muņoz and Illinois lawyer Manuel Sanchez.

Sanchez, a founder of the nation's second-largest minority-owned law firm, raised money for Obama's first presidential bid and said he and other Latinos collected about $8 million in the 2008 campaign. But he and Lopez describe a more extensive Latino operation for the re-election. It kicked off with an Oct. 24, 2011, event attended by Obama and headlined by Longoria and comedian George Lopez at the Los Angeles home of Spanish-born actor Antonio Banderas and his wife, actress Melanie Griffith.

Obama's team provided staffers to support the fund, which raised money at several dozen events coast-to-coast. Matthew Barzun, who left his post as U.S. ambassador to Sweden to serve as Obama's national finance chairman in the 2012 re-election effort, said one of his first meetings after joining the campaign in June 2011 was with the Futuro Fund. Lopez, one of its co-chairpersons, and Barzun were classmates at Harvard.

"We took it seriously," Barzun said.

The hard-line immigration positions espoused by Romney and several other Republican candidates during their party's nomination battle made the contrast between Obama and Republicans "so stark that it was an easy choice" for Latinos to ramp up their support for the president, Sanchez said.

The Hispanic vote was crucial for Obama and a slew of Democrats elected on Nov. 6. Hispanics increased their share of the electorate to 10% in this election, up from 9% in 2008. In Florida, where Obama carried the Latino vote 60% to 39%, Hispanics made up 17% of voters, up from 14% four years ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Voters also elected a record 35 Hispanics to the House of Representatives, including some as delegates representing U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. Twenty-seven are Democrats. Next year, with the election of Republican Ted Cruz from Texas, the Senate will have three Hispanics in its ranks.

In four races, Hispanic Democrats picked up Republican seats, notes Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who runs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' political action committee. They include physician Raul Ruiz's upset of eight-term Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., in a Palm Springs-area district where Latinos are in the minority.

At the same time, the non-Hispanic white vote is shrinking, hitting a low of 72% of the electorate this year, down from 87% two decades ago.

Eugene Sepulveda, an Austin philanthropist who said he has raised more than $2 million for Obama over two campaigns, ranks health care and gay rights among his top issues. He said demographics will change the country's politics for a long time.

"I don't think we'll ever see another Republican president in my lifetime -- unless the party makes huge inroads with the Hispanic, African-American and Asian communities," he said. "They are done. The angry white guys are dying off."

Prominent Latino Republicans say a first step is bipartisan passage of comprehensive immigration legislation to address the millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

"There are 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month," said Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican Party chairman who heads the American Conservative Union. "The path to the White House needs to go through the Latino community."

Obama's bundler list includes at least 15 Hispanic fundraisers, and Sanchez said "dozens" of Hispanics donated or raised at least $50,000 each. Romney has not disclosed who raised money on his behalf.

A USA TODAY analysis shows that Obama raised more than $137,000 from individuals in Puerto Rico, not counting contributions to the Democratic National Committee and joint fundraising with the Democratic Party. Romney raised $45,000 from the territory's residents.

In his first term, Obama appointed Sanchez to an advisory panel on Hispanic education. Would Sanchez like a post in the second term? "I would, but I really don't have anything specific in mind," he said.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012