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Embattled Romney spends big

He and a 'super PAC' go through twice as much as they raised last month, though he keeps a financial edge.

February 21, 2012|Melanie Mason and Matea Gold and Ian Duncan

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and a "super PAC" working on his behalf spent more than twice as much as they raised in January, underscoring how persistent challenges by rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have taxed the former Massachusetts governor's financial operation.

In a month when Romney lost two of the four GOP primary contests, his campaign raced through $18.7 million while raising just $6.4 million, according to finance records filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission. Restore Our Future, a super PAC run by his former aides, spent nearly $14 million, more than twice the $6.6 million it raised.

The high burn rate highlighted how heavily Romney is relying on his super PAC -- which is not allowed to coordinate with his campaign -- as he tries to persuade reluctant Republican voters that he can beat President Obama.

Obama, meanwhile, raised $29 million in January for his reelection and the Democratic National Committee, including $11.8 million for his campaign. Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Obama's reelection, raised less than $59,000 in January.

That paltry sum explains why Obama decided to reverse his stance on outside spending this month and encourage his donors to support the super PAC.

Romney remains the undisputed leader in the GOP money race. Heading into February, a month in which he has been aggressively fundraising, Romney had $7.7 million on hand, while his super PAC had $16.3 million in reserves.

Meanwhile, Gingrich had $1.8 million on hand after raising $5.5 million in January. Texas Rep. Ron Paul had $1.6 million after bringing in $4.5 million. And Santorum, who also attracted $4.5 million, had $1.5 million remaining.

All three have been lifted by allied super PACs infused with money from wealthy benefactors.

Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC, raised $11 million -- with $10 million of that coming from Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

More than 70% of the $2.3 million raised in January by Endorse Liberty, one of three super PACs supporting Paul, came from one man: Peter Thiel, a San Francisco-based investor and the founder of online payment service PayPal. Thiel, who gave the group $900,000 in 2011, anted up an additional $1.7 million last month.

The Red White and Blue Fund, which backs Santorum, was boosted with $1 million from Louisiana energy executive William Dore and $669,000 from Wyoming mutual fund investor Foster Friess -- who also shelled out $331,000 to the super PAC last year.

By far the most robust, however, was Restore Our Future. A cadre of heavyweight Republican fundraisers who had been sitting out the presidential race until now made contributions in January. Donors include former ambassador to France Howard Leach and Liberty Media Chief Executive Gregory Maffei -- a sign of how the GOP establishment is coalescing behind Romney.

Leach, who helped raise money for George W. Bush's first White House bid, waited until Dec. 13 before giving $2,500 to Romney's campaign. He then sent $100,000 to Restore Our Future on Jan. 30.

Gordon Sondland, a real estate investor in Portland, Ore., who raised more than $500,000 for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential run, first donated $2,500 to Romney on Dec. 31. Buena Vista Investments, a company registered to Sondland, made a $50,000 donation to Restore Our Future on Jan. 31.

Last April, Sondland said major Republican donors were going to be careful before backing a candidate.

"A lot of people have a very skeptical wait-and-see attitude to see who's a really serious candidate and who is using the presidential race as potential publicity for themselves," he said at the time. "When people make their investment, they want to know [the candidate] is all in."

Another GOP mega donor who contributed to the Romney super PAC in January was Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave $8.6 million to Republican super PACs last year. He directed $100,000 to Restore Our Future three days after Romney won the New Hampshire primary. But his loyalties appear divided: On Jan. 24, three days after Gingrich's surprise win in South Carolina, he donated another $500,000 to the pro-Gingrich super PAC. Simmons also gave $5 million last month to American Crossroads, a Republican group formed in part by Karl Rove, building upon the $7 million he and his company donated to the super PAC in 2011.

Some of the country's wealthiest citizens poured money into Restore Our Future last month, including $375,000 from hedge fund manager David Tepper, whose fortune Forbes estimates at $5 billion.

Romney's super PAC also got $500,000 from hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner, a longtime supporter of conservative causes whom Forbes ranks as the 73rd wealthiest American, with a fortune estimated at $4.3 billion.

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