Obama racks up support among VCs

For a presidential candidate running on a platform to raise capital gains taxes, Barack Obama has been remarkably adept at gaining support from venture capitalists.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has a cadre of prominent VCs who have both donated to his campaign and taken an active role in fund-raising and outreach. VC supporters, according to analysis of Federal Election Commission records, include a number of venture investors who previously backed other primary candidates who have since dropped out of contention, such as Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and Republican Mitt Romney.

Among the latest to take a high-profile role in the Obama campaign is Vinod Khosla. The Khosla Ventures founder is serving as co-chair of the Asian American Finance Committee, a group formed in July that is raising funds to elect Obama and to strengthen the Democratic Party.

The cleantech investor—who has donated to the campaigns of Clinton and Obama—says that he’s particularly supportive of the Obama’s efforts in “working toward a comprehensive energy independence plan.”

Most of the VCs who’ve switched support to Obama from other candidates are Democrats. They include Andy Rappaport. The August Capital general partner and former Edwards backer donated to the Obama campaign shortly after his first-choice candidate dropped out of the race.

Thomas Ng, managing partner at GGV Capital, and Anne Lamont, managing partner at Oak Investment Partners, both contributed to Clinton last year and to Obama this year.

One who crossed party lines was Draper Fisher Jurvetson Managing Director Tim Draper. In early 2007, Draper contributed to Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the co-founder of Bain Capital, but Draper switched parties and donated to Obama in September 2007.

Meanwhile, other VCs are taking an active role within the campaign. Charles River Ventures Partner Ted Dintersmith, a member of Obama’s National Finance Committee, writes on his blog that he has raised $340,000 for the campaign. Dintersmith says that he is committed to raise $500,000 by November.

Dintersmith, who is spending the year traveling around the world with his family, writes that: “Even though I’m on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I spend time each day fund-raising for Barack Obama.”

Another early Obama supporter is Steve Westly, former California gubernatorial candidate and founder of cleantech fund The Westly Group. Westly serves as a co-chair of Obama’s California campaign.

Obama’s prospects for victory in the general election look more promising. Obama continues to maintain his lead over McCain, according to a Reuters/Zogby telephone survey reported earlier this month. The survey showed the Illinois senator leading his presumptive Republican rival by 47% to 40% among likely voters.

However, McCain is closing the fund-raising gap with Obama when it comes to contributions from private equity professionals.

The Arizona senator raised $50,000 in the second quarter, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records. That trounces the $15,800 raised by Obama, who had bested McCain in all prior quarters. To date, Obama has raised $376,515 from private equity pros, while McCain has raised $231,071.

Moreover, a number of private equity pros helped raise money for McCain in addition to the $50,000 from PE pros. Steve Klinsky of New Mountain Capital helped raise an additional $28,500 for the McCain campaign.

Overall, it was the slowest quarter for private equity giving since the primary season began last year. Part of the problem may be that donors have already maxed out, while others might have been waiting until the Democratic race was all but won by Obama, which didn’t happen until late in the second quarter.

Expect another surge of contributions, particularly if McCain picks PE darling Romney as his running mate.