Mitt Romney's fundraisers are quietly amassing millions

By Stephen Braun

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's presidential fundraising operation dwarfs those of his Republican rivals, with more than $75 million already in donations. It also operates mysteriously at times, withholding the names of Romney's major fundraisers who have helped amass much of its money.

Now, a review by The Associated Press of campaign records and other records provides clues to the vast national network of business leaders bringing in millions to put Romney in the Oval Office. The AP's review identified dozens of people who fit the profile of top Romney fundraisers, known as "bundlers" for their ability to sweep up donations from wealthy acquaintances and steer them to campaigns.

At least seven are the mega-rich donors who each gave gifts of at least $1 million to an allied pro-Romney political committee. Dozens more were listed on invitations for fundraising events, assigned to mine their business and personal networks for maximum campaign contributions. The AP identified likely Romney bundlers through interviews, finance records, event invitations and other publicity about campaign events.

Romney's campaign will not identify his major fundraisers — unlike President Barack Obama's organization, which in January disclosed both bundlers' identifies and their fundraising thresholds. Federal law does not require the Romney campaign to divulge the names, but both GOP and Democratic presidential candidates in recent years routinely provided the identities and money ranges of their top fundraisers.

The lack of transparency by the Romney campaign about its top bundlers prevents voters from knowing who wields influence inside the GOP frontrunner's campaign and how their interests might benefit if he is elected. Romney is in California this week for at least five private fundraisers — typically off-limits to media coverage.

Even in the era of "super" political committees, which can pull in millions of dollars in unlimited and effectively anonymous contributions to support candidates, bundlers are their own campaign forces. Unlike super PACs, which under federal law are not supposed to coordinate with candidates, bundlers raise large amounts that are deposited directly into a campaign's bank account — money that can be spent to pay for salaries, get-out-the-vote efforts and advertising.

Bundlers are typically well-connected business and banking executives who tap their professional and social networks to steer individual contributions from others to the campaign in amounts that can range from $10,000 to well over $500,000. Experienced bundlers can reach these highest amounts quickly. Persuading 25 couples to attend a VIP reception with the candidate for $2,500 each — the maximum an individual can give a campaign — can raise $125,000 in a single evening.

This presidential election is expected to be among the costliest ever. Obama's re-election campaign has raised just over $151 million. His campaign released the names of its bundlers in late January, and the list illustrates how important these elite fundraisers have become. More than 440 bundlers have collected at least $75 million to help Obama win a second term, including 61 people who each raised at least half-million dollars.

Federal law requires only that candidates identify bundlers who also are registered lobbyists, which the Romney campaign has done. Sixteen lobbyists representing a wide range of interests raised nearly $2.2 million for him last year, according to FEC records. Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said the campaign discloses all the information about its donors required by law.

But withholding complete bundler lists deprives voters of critical knowledge about the background and interests of those who have helped keep Romney's campaign flush with cash.

A few weeks before the Republican primary in Florida in January, for instance, Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, hosted a fundraiser for Romney at his oceanfront home in Palm Beach.

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