The knock is that, having hit up all his rich friends and associates for the maximum they can give, Romney’s well will dry up. “He raised a ton of money in the first quarter, but he had a lot of low-hanging fruit,” says the operative with an opponent’s campaign. “The second quarter will show whether it’s for real.”
That may be wishful thinking. Romney’s contributors — who include 40 of the country’s 400 billionaires — are now hitting up their wealthy friends, family, and business partners for donations. “He has very wealthy people, who have connections to very wealthy people, who have connections to very wealthy people,” says Shannon O’Brien, who lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Romney.
The other common criticism — that Romney is spending himself broke — is irrelevant. Romney is raising money to impress the media, not because he needs it. He spent more than $6 million of his estimated half-billion-dollar fortune to become governor of a state he doesn’t even like; why wouldn’t he spend ten times that to get the nomination?
Romney is indeed spending at an unprecedented pace. In fact, by the time you read this, he may have spent the entire initial $20 million. He had blown through $11.5 million by the end of March, and since then he has spent roughly another $2 million on payroll; at least $4 million on advertising, according to estimates; and plenty more on consultants, travel, direct mail, and other expenses.
None of this has pushed him up very far in national polls, but that hasn’t been the goal up to this point. Much of the spending has gone toward the fundraising effort. And targeted advertising, direct mail, and phone calls have pushed up his poll numbers in the early-decision states, where pundits look at such stats. By artificially pushing up the numbers in those states, Romney receives a round of positive media attention, which helps boost his image as a surging front-runner.
There is yet another way Romney is showing more political acumen than anyone else in the race, in either party. While others used “Leadership PACs” to raise and spend money in 2005 and 2006, Romney was the first to use individual, state-level PACs that his friends could stuff with unlimited contributions. While other candidates have shut down their PACs — which they cannot use when running for president — Romney has turned another new trick. A month ago, he spun off his Commonwealth PACs as “independent,” non-party-affiliated entities. Stepping in to chair them is Kirk Jowers, who quit his job as the Romney campaign’s legal counsel — and promptly registered the Commonwealth PACs as 527 organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Michigan. Independently, of course.
Romney has also put together an impressive field team in those states. “He is the best organized” in New Hampshire, says Fred Kocher, president of the New Hampshire High Technology Council. Observers in South Carolina and Iowa say the same. In South Carolina, that organizational strength has helped him win a majority of the straw polls held at county Republican conventions this spring. And in Iowa, it’s paving the way for Ames on August 11.