Hundreds of DC insiders descend on pricey Romney policy talks, reception


For a candidate who says he hasn’t spent a lot of time in Washington, Mitt Romney seems comfortable around D.C. insiders — at least judging by the droves he drew to fundraisers and exclusive huddles in the nation's capital on Thursday.

Hundreds of deep-pocketed Romney supporters, who paid thousands of dollars apiece, flocked to the J.W. Marriott Hotel, just blocks from the White House the GOP presidential candidate hopes to occupy. At least some may have been hoping that the price of admission would include a ticket to join Romney there.  

The event attracted influential lobbyists, businesspeople and politicians and was expected to raise $1 million, according to a Romney fundraiser. The Romney campaign did not return an email asking confirmation of the take and the number of attendees. 

The guests of the policy roundtables included Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, along with former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Freshman Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., was also at the fundraiser.

Romney had a busy day on the Washington social circuit. In the afternoon, he huddled with about 30 people for a “private reception” in a presidential hotel suite at the hotel where the Conservative Political Action Conference is being held, CNN reported.

A ticket to the Romney policy roundtables meant that a person had to raise at least $10,000 for the campaign — a process that's also called "bundling." Unlike President Obama's campaign, the Romney campaign has not voluntarily released the names of its top dollar bundlers.

Roundtable discussions on five policy areas were held separately in the hotel’s large meeting rooms. Peter Smith of Chicago, a director of the medical device company EO2 Concepts, attended the health care discussion led by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who headed the Department of Health and Human Services under former president George W. Bush. Smith said Romney stopped by for 15 minutes. Other roundtable topics and leaders are listed on the event invitation.

There were other options for smaller donors: $2,500 bought a photo op with Romney; $1,000, a chance to wait on a long line to get a drink at the reception.

Although other bundlers have not been identified by Romney, at least two lobbyist bundlers — whose names campaigns are required to report —  attended:

  • Patrick Durkin, a lobbyist and managing director of Barclay’s Capital, who has bundled nearly $800,000 for the campaign;
  • Drew Maloney, the CEO of Ogilvy Government Relations who has bundled nearly $60,000 for Romney so far.

Many other elite Washington D.C. lobbyists and frequent fundraiser hosts were in attendance. One was Lott, who hosted a “Lawyers for Romney” fundraiser at Patton Boggs, D.C.’s largest lobbying firm last summer. Yet he maintained he is not a Romney bundler. He said was at the event because “I figured there’s a lot of folks here I might want to see.”

Other lobbyists who attended included:

  • Frank Keating, CEO of American Bankers Association
  • John Castellani, president and CEO of PhRMA
  • Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute
  • Denise Bode, CEO of American Wind Energy Association
  • Susan Nelson, principal of Navigators Global
  • Dirk Van Dongen, president, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
  • Jade West, senior VP of government relations, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
  • Alex Flint, senior VP of government affairs, the Nuclear Energy Institute
  • Beverly K. Marshall, VP of federal policy and government affairs, Duke Energy
  • Chet Thompson, partner, Crowell & Moring
  • Tom Loeffler, partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Loeffler, a former congressman and top fundraiser for the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was previously a senior advisor to the presidential campaign of Jon Huntsman, and then fundraised for the super PAC backing the former Utah governor. Huntsman dropped out of the race last month.

Van Dongen, a major 2008 McCain bundler, had been a supporter of Rick Perry, but after the Texas governor left the race last month,  he switched to Romney. He told Roll Call other D.C. lobbyists would do the same.

In 2008, Bode, Kuhn, Nelson and Marshall supported McCain over Romney, according to Influence Explorer. Nelson was McCain’s finance director. Others at Thursday's fundraiser gave to both candidates. West gave $2,300 Romney for his 2008 campaign, but later gave the same amount to McCain. Castellani and his wife sent $3,300 to Romney, but later he sent $1,000 to McCain.

Meanwhile, Flint donated $2,300 to Romney in 2007 and did not donate to McCain. Neither Keating nor Thompson donated to either candidate in 2008.

As for the senators in attendance, Murkowski said she was “just here to listen” to the policy discussions. Brown stopped by to “say hi” to Romney because he hadn’t seen him in a while. Romney provided key backing for Brown's come-from-behind victory in the Massachusetts Senate race in 2010.

The policy roundtable is a way for big supporters to get their voices heard, and potentially secure a spot down the road as a campaign advisor or presidential appointee.

"This forum is about people who want to advise,” said security consultant Michael Penders.  “Romney may want to listen to people like me.”


Photos by Tiina Knuutila