Members of the Republican money machine that powered presidential elections from their time as “Rangers” for George W. Bush are betting almost entirely on Mitt Romney, but a large majority has so far sat out of the 2012 race altogether.
The role of these donors has only been heightened as loosened campaign-finance laws mean some “bundlers” who affected previous races by gathering contributions from equally wealthy colleagues have instead given massive amounts directly.
This year, 620 bundlers for Mr. Bush and Sen. John McCain tracked by The Washington Times have given more than $12 million of their own funds in federal elections, with more than $1.5 million going to Romney vessels, vastly more than for any other presidential candidate.
The elites’ second-favorite candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has dropped out of the race, and the only other contender to receive significant backing was Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The party committees, chiefly the Republican National Committee, raised considerably more than $4 million from bundlers and family members, who can give up to $30,800 each. Yet three donations from bundlers to a super-PAC set up by former Bush aide Karl Rove, American Crossroads, nearly matched that amount, illustrating the extent to which super-PACs are poised to usurp traditional responsibilities of the party.
Much of the money raised by both groups will be spent on behalf of whichever candidate receives the party’s nomination.
Retreat toward secrecy
In 2000, Mr. Bush raised at least $55 million from 500 bundlers, on whom he bestowed ranks such as “Pioneer” and “Ranger,” depending on how many dollars they gathered, mostly from business associates. Many went on to receive ambassadorships and other political perks.
By the following election, the practice was critical to running a campaign, with bundlers functioning as generals in the race for big money. Mr. Bush gathered $80 million from bundlers that year, the same amount nominees Mr. McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama drew from the practice in 2008.
In 2008, the major candidates, including Mr. Romney, disclosed the names of those responsible for bringing in enormous chunks of the money, and a quarter of his bundlers that year were old Bush bundlers.
This year, every candidate except Mr. Obama has hidden the names. The Times tracked past bundlers’ personal preferences by analyzing records from the Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Eight bundlers Mr. Romney has been required to disclose under law because they are registered lobbyists have gathered $1 million alone. They include Patrick J. Durkin of Barclays Capital, who brought in more than $800,000 for Republican presidential nominees since 2000. He has bundled $167,000 for Mr. Romney this year.
Untold amounts - perhaps the majority of Mr. Romney’s $32 million haul - could be traceable to a small set of donors whose names he has refused to disclose.
But bundling was largely a creation of donation limits, and other party powerhouses have found that when personal wealth is not a limiting factor, the quickest course of action is to give to new super-PACs aligned with the candidates, which have no cap.