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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

In its early years, Bain Capital funded Staples Inc., helping it become a national office-supply chain. Staples executives and their associates have donated at least $51,000 to Romney's presidential campaign.

EBay Chief Executive Margaret Whitman and Romney have been friends since their days at Bain & Co. Whitman has given Romney campaigns $102,000 and is part of his national fundraising team.

Romney raised $253,000 in Tennessee in the first quarter. In the overall race, that's a modest sum. But McCain and Giuliani raised less than $95,000 between them in Tennessee. A big reason is William Hagerty, who met Romney early in their careers when Romney was at Bain Capital.

"Twenty years ago, I thought, 'This is the kind of guy who could be president of the United States,' " said Hagerty, one of Romney's Tennessee finance chairmen and managing director of a private equity firm, Hagerty Peterson & Co., in Nashville. "I knew he had it in his DNA."

In addition to raising money from his business connections, Romney uses political contacts. His political pedigree dates to the 1960s, when his father, George W. Romney, was Michigan governor and later a Nixon administration Cabinet secretary. Romney raised $1 million in Michigan in the first quarter, more than the other Democratic and Republican candidates combined.

In Massachusetts, Romney raised $2.3 million. Among his donors are people who had business before the state during his four-year tenure or had gubernatorial appointments.

Partners at the Mintz Levin law firm have given him $32,000. As governor, Romney appointed one Mintz partner to a convention center authority, and a second to a transportation finance agency.

Romney's administration retained Mintz to help knit together his universal healthcare plan, his signature accomplishment and one for which he has gained national attention. When he unveiled the plan, Romney singled out Mintz lawyer Alden J. Bianchi for providing "invaluable legal advice."

"Most of Mitt Romney's policy positions are opposite to mine, but I would follow him anywhere," said Bianchi, a Democrat who has given Romney $1,000. Along with his business and political contacts, Romney has tapped another network: Mormons. Kim Farah, spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church wouldn't endorse any candidate. But prominent Mormons are involved.

In Utah, a state that has never been a major source of campaign money, Romney raised $2.8 million in the first quarter, his second-largest source after California. As a second-quarter encore, Romney's Utah boosters hope to raise an additional $1.5 million.

Salt Lake City developer Kem Gardner, a Democrat, has known Romney since the mid-1980s, when Gardner was tasked by his church to oversee Mormon missionaries in the Boston area, and Romney was a lay church leader in Boston.

During the Olympics, Gardner helped Romney raise money, and he is helping the candidate now. He and his associates have donated $113,000 to Romney since 2005. Raising money for Romney is not hard. He is a "hero" in Utah, Gardner said.

Multilevel backing

In the Salt Lake Valley, multilevel marketing is a growth industry. Owners of such firms sell products to distributors who sell to other distributors who, on down the line, sell to consumers.

The business is tailor-made for campaigns that rely on big networks of small donors. Romney has tapped into it, collecting at least $360,000 from the companies, many of which distribute dietary supplements.

One such donor is Thomas E. Mower, founder of a firm that sold supplements. Mower, his family members and executives of his former company have given Romney almost $24,000.

Last June, as Mower awaited sentencing on a $1.2-million tax-evasion conviction, Mower donated $5,000 to a Romney campaign account that has since been dissolved. On Jan. 8, a federal judge in Salt Lake City ordered Mower to prison for 33 months. Three weeks later, the Romney campaign reported receiving an additional $2,000 from Mower. After The Times inquired about Mower's gift, Romney aide Matt Rhoades said the campaign was "returning his [$2,000] contribution immediately."

Romney's national finance committee includes Gordon Morton, a founder of XanGo International, a multilevel marketing company that distributes products derived from a fruit called mangosteen.

XanGo owns the Lehi office building that leases space to Bullock's Sorenson Capital. While Bullock does his high-finance deals, XanGo operates from the first floor, peddling XanGo gear and its main product, a purplish juice mixture, $25 a bottle wholesale. XanGo executives and distributors have given Romney's committees $78,000.

"Like any industry, we look for people who understand the issues we're concerned about," XanGo Vice President Bob Freeze said.

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