Weekend Of Secrecy For Big GOP Donors

By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CBS News, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CBS News) It's going to be a big weekend in the world of big conservative money: Both Mitt Romney and billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch are holding hush-hush events with wealthy donors designed to keep the dollars coming in.

Romney's three-day retreat, which is being held at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, is an opportunity for about 700 Romney's biggest fundraisers to get some face time with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. (Many of them are "bundlers" - wealthy and well-connected individuals who call on their family, friends and associates to max out their contributions to Romney and the GOP - who have raised in the area of $250,000 for Romney.) Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party, and many of the top contenders to be Romney's running mate, are also coming to Park City: CBS News has confirmed that attendees will include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Reagan chief of staff James Baker, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.

Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and former Utah governor Mike Leavitt are among the other big names expected to attend. The Romney campaign would not discuss who is attending the retreat, which is not open to the press. Spokespersons for two top contenders for the vice presidential slot - Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - told CBS News the politicians were invited but would not attend for scheduling reasons. CBS News has also confirmed that Olympic champion figure skater Dorothy Hamill, who participated in the Romney-run 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, will attend.

Romney was not expected to compete in terms of fundraising with President Obama, who broke records in raising nearly $750 million in the 2008 cycle. But he has largely kept pace thanks in part to his personal engagement with wealthy donors, which has come in the form of dozens of intimate meetings around the country and, as the New York Times notes, invitations to his summer home at New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. The Romney campaign, which has garnered a reputation for aggressive and prompt engagement with potential donors, outraised the Obama campaign $78.6 million to $60 million in May.

While Romney and his Republican allies are busy cultivating donors in Utah, the Koch brothers will be in San Diego holding a convention designed to help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars to advance conservative causes. At least we think they will: The event is shrouded in secrecy, and neither representatives for Koch Industries nor a number of expected attendees contacted by CBS News would even confirm that it is taking place.

Word got out last week that it was indeed happening, when Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard confirmed its existence - and San Diego location - to Politico. In an apparent attempt to head off protesters and potential infiltrators, organizers and attendees will not say exactly where the convention will be held; a San Diego alternative newspaper is holding a "Find the Koch Brothers Confab" contest in order to figure it out. (CBS News' attempts to confirm the venue have thus far been fruitless, though we have our suspicions.) Liberals have their own version of the Koch brothers' confab called The Democracy Alliance, where security is similarly strict; both events are awash in security personnel looking to escort uninvited guests (such as reporters) off the premises.

Organizations tied to the Koch brothers are reportedly planning to spend nearly $400 million on the 2012 campaign cycle, and their conferences are largely designed to garner contributions to the cause. Last year, Mother Jones infiltrated a Koch conference in Vail where Christie was a speaker and recorded Charles Koch thanking donors who had given more than $1 million; the list, which is here, includes more than thirty names. According to a leaked invitation, Koch conferences have attracted conservative heavy hitters such as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Govs. Jindal and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Rep. Ryan, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

The semi-secrecy of the Romney retreat and extreme secrecy of the Koch conference mirror the secrecy that currently exists in the world of campaign financing. The Romney campaign, unlike the Obama campaign, refuses to disclose its bundlers, which makes it more difficult for the public to assess what his biggest donors might expect in exchange for their money. The Koch brothers funnel money into groups like Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit "social welfare organization" that does not need to disclose its donors because it is incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service. (More on that here.) And while the super PACs that the Supreme Court freed up to spend unlimited amounts to influence the election do have to disclose their donors, they can simply funnel donations through 501(c)(4) groups - which in many cases are their sister organizations - effectively allowing the super PACs to get around that pesky disclosure requirement. (There is also anonymity on the other side of the spectrum: The Federal Election Commission does not require the campaigns to identify donors who give less than $200 in an election cycle.)

In this election cycle, the Republicans appear to have a significant advantage when it comes to outside group spending - though because 501(c)(4)s and related organizations only have to file with the IRS once per year, it's impossible to know exactly how much money is flowing into the system. The Obama campaign, which says it expects to be outspent overall, estimated Wednesday that Romney, the Republican National Committee and the outside groups will spend $1.225 billion on ads alone before November.

Meanwhile, Romney and Mr. Obama continue to spend much of their time traveling the country to attend fundraisers, many of them closed to the press. CBS News' Mark Knoller reported earlier this month that the president has participated in 160 fundraisers since filing for re-election last April, and he has a number scheduled for next week; Romney, whose campaign frequently holds fundraisers it doesn't let the media know about, plans to follow his weekend retreat with his big donors in Utah by heading to Phoenix, Arizona for another fundraiser on Monday.


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