Romney working on possible 2012 run
Most of his PAC's funds support his ambitions
Republican Mitt Romney is laying the groundwork for a possible White House campaign in 2012, hiring a team of staff members and consultants with money from a fundraising committee he established with the ostensible purpose of supporting other GOP candidates.
The former Massachusetts governor has raised $2.1 million for his Free and Strong America political action committee. But only 12 percent of the money has been spent distributing checks to Romney's fellow Republicans around the country.
Instead, the largest chunk of the money has gone to support Romney's political ambitions, paying for salaries and consulting fees to over a half-dozen of Romney's longtime political aides, according to a Globe review of expenditures.
Romney founded the Free and Strong America Committee shortly after dropping out of the 2008 presidential primary. He filled its coffers by telling conservative contributors around the country that their money would be used to support Republican candidates and causes.
According to the Globe analysis, he spent $244,000 on contributions to congressional and other candidates between April and the November elections. He has spent more than twice as much on staff salaries and contracts to hire professional fundraisers, who are compiling contributor lists that will serve Romney well in a future presidential campaign.
In essence, Romney is financing a political enterprise that he can use to remain a national GOP leader and use as a springboard should he decide to launch another presidential bid for 2012.
Romney aides insisted that the primary mission of the Free and Strong America Political Action Committee is to raise money for other Republicans around the country and to promote GOP policies. The committee says that booster work included flying Romney to various districts to help congressional candidates, many of whom happened to support his 2008 presidential primary candidacy.
But the committee's track record of spending most of the money on other expenses, such as Romney's political staff, raises questions about written fundraising solicitations he has made that were mailed to potential contributors, including this one:
"It is more essential than ever that conservative candidates and organizations have the resources they need to get their message out to voters," Romney said in the fundraising appeal. "Because of your help, my political action committee ... is supporting over 70 candidates this election cycle. Your continued support today will ensure that they have the assistance they need to win."
Campaign finance experts say the Free and Strong America committee's use of its funds for Romney's political expenses is well within the legal restrictions set by law. They also note that it is not entirely unusual for high-profile politicians to use such political action committees, despite their appeals to donors like the ones Romney makes, to keep large sums for their own purposes.
"This is not uncommon and not illegal, but it is unfortunate and deceptive to tell donors their funds are going to help candidates when in fact a big chunk is used to further the career of the political person who created the PAC," said Paul S. Ryan, associate legal counsel to the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group in Washington that monitors campaign finance laws.
"The legal reality is contributor beware," he said. "It would be wise for donors to look at the track records."
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom argued that the Free and Strong America committee's contributions of $244,000 to other candidates represented a significant percentage of the committee's overall expenditures. Its "level of financial support was extraordinary," when compared with other national leaders of Romney's standing, he said.
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