WASHINGTON — A fledgling company dissolved shortly after making a $1 million contribution to an independent political committee supporting Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, leaving the source of the money unclear.
The contribution could embolden other candidates from both parities to seek similar donations, Brigham Young University political science professor David Magleby warned, a potential "donnybrook" that could bring in more money from corporations in the 2012 race alone than over the past century.
"There are donors who want to make major gifts but don't want anyone to know about it," Magleby told KSL Newsradio. "If that's what this allows, I think it will create real problems for the Federal Election Commission and, by the way, for the public."
He pointed out it would take 400 individuals contributing the maximum $2,500 allowed under federal law to equal the $1 million.
"That's a lot of fundraising," Magleby said. "That's a number of events at the Grand America or some other hotel that Romney would need to go to. So it shows you the power of one contribution."
The seven-figure donation from the mysterious company, which was formed and dissolved over four months this year, is raising new questions about secret campaign money flowing to so-called "Super PACs" under new rules established after a landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law.
The PAC, called Restore Our Future, raised $12.2 million during the first six months of 2011 and was created by former aides to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. The outside group is not officially connected to Romney and can receive unlimited funds from individuals and corporations because of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as "Citizens United."
W Spann LLC was incorporated in Delaware on March 15 and then made a $1 million contribution to Restore Our Future on April 28, according to records with the Federal Election Commission. W Spann then folded on July 11, two weeks before the PAC made its first disclosure of its donors this year.
The company was formed and dissolved by a Boston lawyer, Cameron Casey of Ropes & Gray. According to her online bio, Casey provides "comprehensive estate planning advice to high-net-worth individuals and families" and "advises nonprofit organizations and their donors with respect to charitable planning matters."
Tim Larimer, a spokesman for the law firm, said it "does not discuss confidential client matters."
Campaign finance watchdogs criticized the donations. Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said the $1 million donation was "apparently made in a manner designed to blatantly circumvent the campaign-finance disclosure laws."
NBC News first reported the circumstances surrounding the donation.
The law firm has other connections to Romney. R. Bradford Malt, a partner with Ropes & Gray, has served as the trustee for blind trusts set up by Romney and his wife, Ann. And John Montgomery, another partner at the firm, represented Romney in 2002 when Democrats unsuccessfully challenged Romney's residency during his campaign for Massachusetts governor.
In the FEC filing, W Spann listed an address of 590 Madison Avenue in New York, but there are no state business records on file pertaining to the company. A phone call to building manager Minskoff Equities said it had no records of the firm as a tenant.
One of Ropes & Gray's clients is Bain Capital, the investment firm previously led by Romney. Bain Capital has office space at the high-rise at 590 Madison Ave., along with IBM, UBS, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Bank of America and Cemex.
Alex Stanton, a spokesman for Bain Capital, said in a statement the company "has many employees who actively participate in civic affairs, and they individually support candidates from both parties. The firm takes no position on any candidate, and the entity in question is not affiliated with Bain Capital or any of our employees."
Charles Spies, one of Restore Our Future's organizers, did not respond to AP's questions. Spies declined to answer questions about the W Spann donation from NBC News, saying "that's not something that we normally ask a contributor for." He said the PAC "has fully complied with, and will continue to comply with, all FEC disclosure requirements."
W Spann's donation was one of the largest the PAC received this year. Restore Our Future also received checks of $1 million apiece from Eli Publishing Inc., and F8 LLC, which are both registered to the same address in Provo, Utah. Eli Publishing is registered to Steven Lund, founders of Provo-based Nu Skin Enterprises, which develops anti-aging products, while F8 is registered to Jeremy Blickenstaff, who previously worked for Nu Skin.40 comments on this story
The PAC also received $500,000 from Marriott International Inc. CEO J.W. Marriot Jr. and Marriot's brother, Richard, the chairman of Host Hotels and Resorts. The CEO of New York hedge fund Moore Capital Management, Louis Moore Bacon, also gave $500,000.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, said that "once the opportunity exists for flying under the radar, of course that loophole will be used." She said recent rulings, like Citizens United, and a lack of serious consequences for political spending "means it's all-systems-go for outside influence."
"It's an equal-opportunity problem for both political parties," she said, "and an equal-opportunity problem for the public."
Contributing: Randall Jeppesen