Mitt Romney’s powerhouse first-quarter fundraising numbers — he reports to have taken in more than $20 million — got him all kinds of press attention, including a key slot on the Today show on Tuesday. There, as in other appearances, Romney was asked whether much of his fundraising was done through Mormon connections.
He should have been asked how much of his fundraising was done through connections with the world of scandal, dirty tricks, sketchy ethics, and illegality. Romney’s finance committees, steering committees, host committees, and fundraising staff are full of such people.
For instance, Romney’s fundraisers include several of the big funders of the notorious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — the group that claimed, without evidence, that John Kerry lied to obtain an undeserved Purple Heart. The Swift Boat Veterans’ top funder, home developer Bob Perry of Texas, is on one of Romney’s fundraising committees. So is another big funder of the group, Carl Lindner of Cincinnati. Lindner, by-the-by, was chairman of Chiquita Brands when it was secretly paying off South American terrorist organizations, for which the company recently agreed to pay a $25 million fine. And the Swift Boat Veterans’ legal counsel, Benjamin Ginsberg, is on Romney’s staff. Ginsberg was also chief counsel for Bush-Cheney 2000, for which he played a central role in stopping the Florida recount in that controversial election.
Several other Romney fundraisers helped in the 2000 Florida effort, including J. Caleb Boggs III, who led the Florida recount team for Bush; David Norcross, who served as a recount “observer” in Palm Beach; and Timothy Flanigan.
Flanigan’s name can be found woven through several juicy scandals. He was counsel for Tyco International, whose former CEO has just been convicted; he oversaw a suspicious contract with former lobbyist — and now convicted felon — Jack Abramoff. And Flanigan helped draft the notorious memos in defense of torture for then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.
Another staffer from that office, Bradford Berenson, made a name for himself by publicly defending those memos. He is also a Romney fundraiser. So is David Leitch, whose e-mail exchanges with the White House Counsel office — discussing plans to fire all the US Attorneys — have become part of the scandal that threatens to end Gonzales’s current job as attorney general.
From the office of the previous attorney general, John Ashcroft, Romney’s team includes Barbara Comstock. Comstock later provided legal defense for both Tom DeLay, in his corruption indictments, and Scooter Libby, in his perjury conviction.
Another name that has become a part of Romney’s fundraising family is Joe Dilg, managing partner of Vinson & Elkins in Houston. There, Dilg was lead attorney on the law firm’s biggest account: Enron Corporation. A bankruptcy examiner found that Dilg’s firm was either negligent, or else actively aided and abetted Enron officers in their breaches of fiduciary duties. The company was also lead outside counsel for another company you might have heard of: Halliburton.
Finally, by odd coincidence, Dilg gave Alberto Gonzales his first job out of law school. It’s a small world, no?
Hillary’s fundraising spin
For some months, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been scaring the world with talk of her expected mammoth fundraising numbers. And when the first quarter ended last weekend, her campaign was the first out bragging about the take, claiming a triumphant $36 million figure.
Figures can be deceiving. As the full disclosure reports come in — due April 15 — we’ll likely find that the first-quarter fundraising shows surprising vulnerability in the front-runner’s status.
Or, to put it another way, Clinton’s overblown public tiff with Barack Obama over Hollywood funders was rooted in a real problem for her campaign.
Clinton’s $36 million figure includes at least $10 million rolled over from her Senate campaign coffers — it’s real, usable money, but not an indicator of fundraising power.
Plus, an undisclosed amount of the newly acquired $26 million is dedicated to a general-election account, unusable during the primaries because it runs beyond the $2300 individual-donation limit. Unlike other campaigns, Clinton’s spokespeople have refused to say how much is usable primary money. They claim, laughably, that they need a couple of weeks to sort out that level of detail in the numbers.
As one political observer quipped to me, you would think that with $36 million, she could hire someone who knows how to use Excel.
The reluctance to disclose these numbers has led some to speculate that as much as 20 to 25 percent of the $26 million is general-election funds — meaning that Clinton raised barely $20 million in new, usable contributions in the first three months of the year.
That’s still a lot, but it’s not above and beyond what the other top-tier candidates raised. Barack Obama, who had not released an estimate as of this writing, is rumored to have taken in at least $25 million, all for the primary. Mitt Romney raised just over $20 million; Rudy Giuliani raised roughly $14 million (plus $1 million for the general); John McCain raised $12.5 million; and John Edwards raised $12 million (plus $1 million for the general.