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Romney attracts all kinds of money

His diverse business, political and religious relationships make him the leader in GOP fundraising if not polls.

June 17, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

LEHI, UTAH — A Democratic developer is raising money for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The Texas financier behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth also is backing him. So are saints and sinners -- prominent Mormons and an imprisoned tax evader.

With campaign funds pouring in from such diverse corners of the donor world, an incongruous set of election-season numbers has emerged: Romney, with a mere 10% showing in recent polls, is far ahead of his GOP rivals in fundraising.

Romney's early domination of the money race has come primarily from his broad business, political and religious relationships across the country.

His network includes Massachusetts, where he became wealthy and served as governor; Michigan, where his father was governor in the 1960s; and several Western states, most notably California and Utah.

In the first 90 days of the year, Romney, a Mormon, raised nearly $3 million in the spiritual heartland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- more than Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) has raised in his home state during his three decades in public office.

"A lot of us say this guy is as good as anyone we've ever met," Hatch said in an interview. In Utah, Hatch added, "almost everybody with money, Democrat or Republican, is willing to support him."

Romney, 60, made his fortune in private equity. More than the other Republicans in the race, he is tapping the world of finance and commerce, at the high and not-so-high ends.

His campaign aides declined to discuss details of Romney's fundraising, but federal campaign disclosure records reveal the breadth and range of his financial support.

Partners at multibillion-dollar private equity and hedge funds have given millions. Pyramid-like direct-marketing companies based in the Salt Lake Valley have donated hundreds of thousands more.

Inside the machine

To glimpse inside Romney's fundraising machine, enter a two-story building in Lehi, a small city between Salt Lake City and Provo. The building looks like all the others clustered off Interstate 15, below the Wasatch Range.

Fraser Bullock leases the upper floor for his private equity firm, Sorenson Capital. Upon graduating from Romney's alma mater, Brigham Young University, Bullock got a job in 1980 at Bain & Co., a Boston-based consulting firm where Romney was a vice president.

In 1984, when Romney split to form the private equity firm Bain Capital, Bullock followed as an original partner. Today, relationships that Romney forged at Bain Capital and Bain & Co. are integral to his fundraising.

When Romney was tapped to revive the scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee, Bullock became his chief operating officer. Romney cemented his standing with Bullock, and Utah generally, with the success of the 2002 Games.

When Romney decided to run for president, Bullock jumped in. People affiliated with Sorenson Capital have given Romney $67,000 since last year. More significantly, Bullock regularly carves out time to call associates for campaign money.

Romney, a multihundred millionaire, is his own largest donor. He pumped more than $6 million into his winning 2002 run for Massachusetts governor, and an additional $2.35 million to seed his presidential aspirations.

He has raised more than $40 million from other people for his three campaigns, including his failed 1994 effort to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). More than half -- $21 million -- came in the first quarter of 2007. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani took in $14.7 million; Sen. John McCain of Arizona logged $13 million.

To maintain his pace, Romney has scheduled dozens more fundraisers this month, including nine in a three-day period this week in California.

Romney, the least well-known of the major candidates, started airing commercials fully a year before early primary and caucus states begin selecting the GOP nominee. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll showed him with the support of 10% of Republican voters, though some state polls suggest he has gained in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Federal law caps individual donations at $2,300 per election. In a campaign likely to cost $1 billion, the most valuable donors are not those who give the maximum amount, but "bundlers" who persuade others to give.

Bain-related sources contributed at least $475,000, a Times analysis of Romney's first-quarter fundraising shows. The money came from current and former Bain partners such as Bullock, their relatives and associates including executives of Bain's client companies. Altogether, Bain sources have donated more than $1 million to Romney, a review of his campaign reports dating to 1994 shows.

Bain-related checks come in bundles large and small. Salvadoran billionaire Ricardo Poma, whose holding company is engaged in a wide array of ventures, was an original investor in Bain Capital. Ernesto Poma, a relative, and others in Ernesto's Florida firm, Transal Corp., have given Romney $5,000 this year.

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