Romney’s Money Problem; Will Independent Committees Try to Buy the Republican Primary?

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, April 2 — Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign said Monday that it had raised $20 million in the first quarter, tapping two distant but rich networks — Wall Street and the Mormon Church — to easily outpace his better-known Republican primary rivals.

[…]

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Romney, said the total was “indicative of the extraordinary success he has had reaching out and discussing important issues with the American people.” Mr. Madden credited an online system — called “com-Mitt” — that the campaign had set up for volunteer fund-raisers to send information and solicitations by e-mail to their friends and associates.

That article was great news for Romney…when it was published four years ago. Back then, Romney was a Republican money machine, tapping in to his Wall Street and Mormon connections:

Although Mr. Romney’s membership in the Mormon Church has often been discussed as a potential political liability, he has taken deliberate steps to turn his affiliation with the church into a fund-raising asset. He has tapped wealthy Mormons including the Marriott family, founders of the hotel chain, and Jon M. Huntsman Sr., who made a fortune in plastics packaging.

Last year, for example, Mr. Huntsman and his sons gave more than $100,000 to political action committees set up to lay the groundwork for Mr. Romney’s campaign. A handful of other Mormons have contributed especially heavily as well. They made the contributions through a chain of federal and state committees Mr. Romney set up that allowed donors to contribute more than the $5,000 limit on gifts to federal PACs.. Residents of Utah, the center of the Mormon Church, contributed about 15 percent of the total contributions, more per capita than any other state.

[…]

Mr. Romney helped make many others rich through steep annual returns for investors in Bain Capital and through its payments to finance or buy out private companies. Some. like Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples, have returned the favor with political contributions.

Meg Whitman, who has made a fortune as chief executive of eBay, met Mr. Romney when she worked as a Bain consultant. In January, she signed on as a financial co-chairwoman of his presidential campaign. She and scores of others called their own contacts on his behalf as part of a public demonstration of his fund-raising prowess that raised more than $6 million in one day.

Usually when someone runs a competitive primary campaign they can raise more money the next time around. But at this point, it appears Romney may struggle. In fact, over the previous three months he raised only $1.9 million, less than a tenth what he raised in the same quarter last time.

Now that she’s outraised Romney, it appears people will finally wake up to the reality that Michele Bachmann is a player in the Republican primary. That’s in part because she’ll be able to raise money. But with John Huntsman’s presidential dalliances evidently locking Romney of some of the Mormon money he relied on last time, and with nobody else showing much fundraising prowess, it’s possible that there will be much less money spent by the campaigns during the Republican primary, lowering the price of entry for Bachmann and possibly causing the Republican establishment all kinds of heartburn.

Republican candidates did OK financially in 2010, but what enabled the Republicans to flip the House and win big in gubernatorial races was the spending by independent groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity that are funded and run by conservatives. In early fall the overall independent spending on behalf of Republicans was seven times greater than that for Democrats. Independent expenditures haven’t generally been a big factor in presidential primaries, but if the more conventional candidates can’t raise much money and there’s a risk that the nomination could go to someone like Michele Bachmann, who’s unelectable in a general election, the operatives with access to large pots of establishment money may decide to step in and try to determine the nominee.

In the past, Republicans generally nominated a front-runner who had been given the nod by the party establishment. It’s what happened in 2008, when McCain was nominated, but it was tight. But since then, in Senate races in particular, the Republican base nominated candidates too obviously extreme to win a general election. It could be fun watching the Republican establishment decide whether to use their independent committees to try to prevent the tea party rabble from choosing their presidential nominee.

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