- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

The pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has spent $25 million in donated funds on ads excoriating Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, but with the exception of two advertising firms, the biggest recipient of its money has been a top Romney aide who left the presidential campaign to oversee the super PAC’s finances.

The PAC has paid $2 million to Steve C. Roche through a mysterious limited liability company set up shortly after the political committee was established, one that formed in Delaware taking steps that hide its creator’s identity and has no physical or billing address other than a P.O. Box.

The LLC also was formed while Mr. Roche was still receiving funds from Mr. Romney’s campaign in what could be the clearest sign yet of a non-existent wall between a candidate and the super PACs, which are required to be independent.

The company which super PAC officials say is Mr. Roche’s was formed in April, incorporation filings show. Mr. Roche, who was Romney for President finance director, received money from the campaign as late as August, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

The payments to Podium Capital Group LLC at P.O. Box 3238 in Beverly, Mass., demonstrate that the little-regulated, nominally transparent groups have the potential to not only dramatically alter the election landscape, but also to funnel large amounts of cash to people close to candidates with the same half-hearted disclosure as it comes in.

The PAC’s accounting practices, The Washington Times found, give new meaning to the former Massachusetts governor’s assertion that “corporations are people, my friend,” eviscerating federal disclosure requirements by masking all of their personnel payments with disbursements instead to intermediary companies.

In other words, the $2 million was paid out the same way that several $1 million donations to Restore Our Future were infamously taken in.

Pro-Romney donors explored new ground in making massive donations while keeping their identities secret following a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that set the stage for donations of any amount from people and corporations: By creating an LLC in the tax haven of Delaware and hiring a third-party company to serve as the agent behind the company on filing papers.

Because only annual disclosures are required, creators can form a company for the sole purpose of moving money, and disband it before any person’s name has to become attached to it.

Delaware incorporation records show the LLC was formed in April 2011 and listed “Corporation Service Company” as its registered agent.

Mr. Roche did not respond to requests for comment.

“We don’t typically comment on vendors. What I can tell you is that’s Steve Roche’s group,” said Restore Our Future spokesperson Brittany Gross.

Mr. Roche’s move from the campaign to the super PAC illuminated the overlap between campaigns and the groups which, by law, are independent. With high-ranking operatives from the campaign heading the independent groups, observers noted, there was much less need to communicate with current campaign staffers.

Asked what the payments for “fundraising services” represented, Ms. Gross said, “They raise funds. That’s all I know.” She disclaimed any other knowledge of the company or its services, and added that she did not know how to contact it.

No names on the payroll

The result of parceling basic services out to companies, including those apparently established specifically to carry them out for the PAC, is that there are no names on the payroll of Restore Our Future. Podium Capital has never done any political work before, FEC records show.

Staffers like Ms. Gross appear to be being paid through other companies, in Ms. Gross’s case Black Rock Group LLC.

Federal rules require political campaigns to disclose how they are spending money, and while many political groups contract with political consultants for services, those are uniformly established groups providing specific services to multiple clients, and it is highly unusual for staffers not to be paid directly by PACs.

“Faux disclosure is what I see,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which monitors influence in politics. “There’s potential for shell corporations.”

Much of super PAC fundraising consists of tapping known wealthy supporters, unlike traditional campaign fundraising, in which people buy tickets for expensive dinners and receive face time with the candidate or office holder.

Restore Our Future has held at least occasional in-person events, however, including some at which Mr. Romney appeared — a murky area of non-coordination which the FEC has approved even though super PACs must remain independent from campaigns.

But the committee has paid hotels directly for receptions, including the Waldorf Astoria and the University Club in New York, the Beverly Hills Hotel and Montage Beverly Hills, so those bills are not included in the payments to Mr. Roche’s LLC.

That means though the corporate arrangement makes it impossible to tell how much was pure compensation, the new funds than can receive unlimited contributions also have meant nearly unlimited income for people like Mr. Roche.

Asked about Podium Capital, Ms. Gross painted the work of Mr. Roche, who has worked with Mr. Romney since his gubernatorial campaigns, as those of a distant corporate transaction.

“I don’t know why they called themselves that. We were not involved with how they set up their company.”

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