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Pro-Romney 'super PAC' meets alongside donor event

Big Romney donors meet with leaders of Restore Our Future after a campaign strategy event — highlighting the close and controversial ties between the Republican's campaign and the group.

October 17, 2012|By Maeve Reston and Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), pictured in August, gave the opening address at a meeting of Mitt Romney donors and leaders of the “super PAC” Restore Our Future. Coleman is a foreign policy advisor for Romney.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), pictured in August, gave the opening… (Brian Cassella / Chicago…)

NEW YORK — Among the series of events held Tuesday at the Waldorf Astoria to thank the wealthy donors backing Mitt Romney was a session with the leaders of Restore Our Future, a "super PAC" prohibited from coordinating with his campaign.

The afternoon meeting was held behind an unmarked door in one of the hotel's dining rooms, just one floor above the Grand Ballroom, where 1,000 donors and fundraisers for the Republican's presidential campaign had gathered earlier in the day to listen to officials discuss the strategy for the final three weeks of the presidential race.

The meshing of the two events spotlighted the symbiotic relationship between Romney's campaign and the super PAC, which has already poured more than $90 million into providing essential air cover for the GOP candidate.

The meeting for Restore Our Future donors was hosted by two former Romney aides who founded the group, political strategist Carl Forti and election law attorney Charlie Spies. They declined to comment on whether they had scheduled the event in coordination with the campaign.

As he exited the session, Forti described it as part of "the last big push.... We're tied."

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said that Restore Our Future "is an independent group who acts independently from the campaign."

Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit super PACs and other outside groups from making expenditures in consultation with a candidate's campaign. But there is nothing to stop Restore Our Future from setting up its own event after learning about the Romney donor retreat through the media. That, said some campaign finance experts, is part of the problem.

"The coordination rules are a joke and completely undermine the promise ... that this new flood of money would be raised and spent in any meaningfully independent way from the candidates," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, which pushes for tighter finance rules. "These super PACs are connected at the hip with the candidates' campaigns."

This was not the first time Restore Our Future officials shadowed a Romney campaign event. In June, Spies was spotted in the lobby of a Park City, Utah, resort during another multiday retreat for top Romney donors.

The three-day New York gathering, which concludes Wednesday with a farewell breakfast, was the last for those who have bundled large checks for Romney's presidential bid.

"They come here and feel appreciated for their support," said finance chairman Spencer Zwick. "They get a sense of how their money is going to be used, and they get energized to go forward and do a lot more."

Zwick laid out a final goal for attendees on Tuesday: to raise $2 million in 45 minutes using their cellphones.

Bad reception drove many bundlers out of the ballroom and into the hotel's tiled lobby in search of a better signal. There, perched on a gray velvet couch, sat Forti, working on his laptop.

Later, as Romney's wife, Ann, wrapped up an address to donors in the ballroom, Forti lunched with Spies and Spies' wife, Lisa, (a finance director for the Romney campaign) at the elegant Peacock Alley restaurant. Donors, identifiable by their special Romney lapel pins, wandered by the table to say hello.

Restore Our Future held its afternoon meeting after the Romney retreat sessions had ended for the day but before the campaign's official debate watch party.

The meeting, held in a suite with tall windows overlooking Park Avenue, opened with an address by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, a Romney foreign policy advisor who also serves as chairman of the conservative advocacy group American Action Network.

Afterward, one super PAC donor who declined to give his name said the presentation was similar to ones delivered earlier in the year: "The battleground states are still the battleground states; the opportunities are still the opportunities."

In the primaries, Restore Our Future mowed down Romney's opponents as he sought to secure the nomination. Its impact in the general election has been more diffuse: It targeted key states with television commercials in August — then went dark for much of September, expecting Romney's campaign to be at full force on the airwaves during that period.

But that did not happen, a decision that caught Romney's allies off guard. After being off the air for three weeks, Restore Our Future reserved $19 million worth of ad time for October, going after Obama in Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Virginia and Michigan.

"We have already had a huge impact in terms of filling in with advertising and responding to Obama's attacks in the vulnerable period over the summer, and putting the governor's campaign in a position to succeed going into critical closing months of the campaign," Spies said in an interview last week, adding: "Without the efforts of Restore Our Future and other allied Republican-leaning groups, Romney would have just been swamped."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

matea.gold@latimes.com

Reston reported from New York and Gold from Washington.

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