- The Washington Times
Sunday, November 27, 2011

Members of the Republican money machine that powered presidential elections from their time as “Rangers” for George W. Bush are betting almost entirely on Mitt Romney, but a large majority has so far sat out of the 2012 race altogether.

The role of these donors has only been heightened as loosened campaign-finance laws mean some “bundlers” who affected previous races by gathering contributions from equally wealthy colleagues have instead given massive amounts directly.

This year, 620 bundlers for Mr. Bush and Sen. John McCain tracked by The Washington Times have given more than $12 million of their own funds in federal elections, with more than $1.5 million going to Romney vessels, vastly more than for any other presidential candidate.

The elites’ second-favorite candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has dropped out of the race, and the only other contender to receive significant backing was Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The party committees, chiefly the Republican National Committee, raised considerably more than $4 million from bundlers and family members, who can give up to $30,800 each. Yet three donations from bundlers to a super-PAC set up by former Bush aide Karl Rove, American Crossroads, nearly matched that amount, illustrating the extent to which super-PACs are poised to usurp traditional responsibilities of the party.

Much of the money raised by both groups will be spent on behalf of whichever candidate receives the party’s nomination.

Retreat toward secrecy

In 2000, Mr. Bush raised at least $55 million from 500 bundlers, on whom he bestowed ranks such as “Pioneer” and “Ranger,” depending on how many dollars they gathered, mostly from business associates. Many went on to receive ambassadorships and other political perks.

By the following election, the practice was critical to running a campaign, with bundlers functioning as generals in the race for big money. Mr. Bush gathered $80 million from bundlers that year, the same amount nominees Mr. McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama drew from the practice in 2008.

In 2008, the major candidates, including Mr. Romney, disclosed the names of those responsible for bringing in enormous chunks of the money, and a quarter of his bundlers that year were old Bush bundlers.

This year, every candidate except Mr. Obama has hidden the names. The Times tracked past bundlers’ personal preferences by analyzing records from the Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Eight bundlers Mr. Romney has been required to disclose under law because they are registered lobbyists have gathered $1 million alone. They include Patrick J. Durkin of Barclays Capital, who brought in more than $800,000 for Republican presidential nominees since 2000. He has bundled $167,000 for Mr. Romney this year.

Thomas Fiorentino and Wayne Berman, two other Romney bundlers, also bundled for Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush.

Untold amounts - perhaps the majority of Mr. Romney’s $32 million haul - could be traceable to a small set of donors whose names he has refused to disclose.

But bundling was largely a creation of donation limits, and other party powerhouses have found that when personal wealth is not a limiting factor, the quickest course of action is to give to new super-PACs aligned with the candidates, which have no cap.

Fundraisers open own wallets

Beer baron August Busch III gave $80,000 of his own money to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC set up by a former top Romney adviser. The contribution was equivalent to gathering the maximum campaign contribution from 32 friends.

Harold C. Simmons of Contran Corp., a McCain bundler, has given to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr. Romney, Mr. Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota this year. But a $100,000 contribution to a super-PAC supporting Mr. Perry in June outweighed all of those contributions.

In a 1990s lawsuit that Mr. Simmons settled for $100 million, his daughters alleged that he used their names as conduits for contributions to politicians, but following a 2010 Supreme Court decision that led to the creation of super-PACs, such chicanery is not necessary.

Bundlers are successful fundraisers in part because they are making personal requests of members of their community, whether in the form of a memo distributed to colleagues at the top rung of a global organization or a face-to-face pitch at a country club dinner.

Instead of canvassing for nickels and dimes, candidates tap into the elites for not one, but many maximum contributions. The points of entry to those networks, the bundlers, are highly sought after and, from winning candidates, potentially richly rewarded.

No guarantee of success

Bundlers are savvy and politically informed, and they gravitate toward candidates they think are likely to win. They work behind the scenes, and their early labors can function effectively as seed money. But their support is no guarantee of success.

Mr. Pawlenty appears to have tapped an extensive bundler network, and maximum donations from a few could not keep his campaign from sputtering out. On April 13, a dozen Capital Group employees and their families gave the maximum to Mr. Pawlenty, totaling $32,500, an apparent response to a request sent around the world by a bundler connected to the firm.

On June 14, 10 people connected to the law offices of Sidley Austin LLP throughout the world gave thousands to Mr. Pawlenty, FEC documents show.

Sometimes, bundlers have to look no further than the family.

Over two days in April, Jeff, Sam and Greg Fox each donated to Restore our Future, totaling $200,000. Sam Fox is founder of Harbour Group, a multibillion-dollar investment firm. Two weeks later, six family members gave $25,000 to Free and Strong America PAC, a fund Mr. Romney controls. On May 16, 11 Harbour employees, including three other family members, gave the maximum to the campaign itself.

Mr. Bush nominated Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium after he attained the status of Ranger in 2004, but was forced to withdraw the nomination over a donation by Mr. Fox to a controversial outside group, Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, which formed to campaign against Mr. Bush’s 2004 challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

Hedge their bets

It seems clear that for some, bundling is an exercise in milking existing connections to establish ones with incoming politicians, a phenomenon that is no clearer than when an executive raises money for both sides of a race.

Mr. Busch, the beer mogul, did just that. He raised at least $200,000 for Mr. Bush in 2004, and for good measure gathered more than $50,000 for Mr. Kerry. In the 2008 election, he shepherded more than a quarter-million dollars for Mr. McCain.

Also during the 2008 presidential race, Florida shipping magnate Harry Sargeant III raised the better part of $1 million for Mr. McCain, but also actively collected funds for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Some Bush and McCain bundlers have given to Mr. Obama and his party since it occupied the White House. They have given at least $565,000 to Democrats this year in all.

DreamWorks Animation’s Roger Enrico, a former Pepsi CEO, bundled for both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain, but this year he’s given more than $35,000 to Mr. Obama. Those donations are almost certainly credited toward his colleagues, Jeffrey Katzenberg or Andy Spahn, who together have gathered more than $1 million for Mr. Obama this year.

Financier Nick Brown of the GFI Group bundled more than $50,000 for Mr. McCain in 2008, but all his donations since have gone to Democrats, including $30,800 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Old guard recedes

Indeed, much of the machinery surrounding the Bush dynasty has faded, and while one candidate’s institutional credibility reaches back even further - to the 1994 Republican revolution - the number of party powerhouses that will activate for Mr. Gingrich appears limited, if potent.

Twelve Republican bundlers have given to Gingrich groups this year and, according to the records, included among them happens to be one of the largest political financiers in America, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has supported only Mr. Gingrich in the presidential race.

Mr. Adelson, who with his wife has contributed $10,000 to Mr. Gingrich, has given millions of dollars to groups connected to Mr. Gingrich since his time as House speaker, such as his now-defunct group American Solutions for Winning the Future.

Organized under old rules, it was prohibited from advocating for Mr. Gingrich directly and shut down as he departed to focus on his bid for the White House.

Bundlers’ lack of support for Romney rivals does not mean they all support the former Massachusetts governor. In fact, most have remained neutral so far, a significant force that remains untapped.

New Jersey lawyer Hersh Kozlov is a two-time Bush Pioneer and bundled for Mr. Romney during his unsuccessful 2008 bid for the nomination. But so far, he has not donated to any of the presidential candidates, records show.

Former entertainment executive A. Jerrold Perenchio bundled $100,000 for Mr. Bush and $500,000 for Mr. McCain while donors were subject to contribution limits. But he outdid all that with the stroke of his pen on April 22, writing a $2 million check to American Crossroads. The contributions indicate a loyalty to the Bush machine that has not translated to immediate support for one of the current candidates; like donations to the party, Crossroads donations seem to signal a wait-and-see attitude.

Robert B. Rowling, another Bush bundler, gave to both Mr. Romney and Mr. Pawlenty, but also sent $1 million to American Crossroads.

Establishment creatures that they are, the bundlers’ time likely will be best spent after the party conventions, when nominees are selected. At that point, the Republican National Committee and the winning campaign will effectively be merged, and bundlers can tap associates for much larger $33,300 checks.

• Luke Rosiak can be reached at lrosiak@washingtontimes.com.

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