Mitt can’t quit Marriott


MarriottThe big buzz about the Marriott Hotel company's decision to reach out and hire the unemployed — or one of them, at least — underscores the hospitality giant's knack for gathering and exercising influence in Washington.

Monday's announcement that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will be rejoining the Marriott International board of directors solidifies the former Republican presidential candidate's close ties with a company that he never really left, even while chasing his White House dream. It will be Romney's third stint as a board member on the company that operates, franchises, or licenses more than 3,700 lodging properties worldwide, and claims its portfolio of lodging brands is the "broadest of any company in the world," running the gamut from the swanky Ritz Carlton chain to road warrior favorite Fairfields Inns.  

According to corporate filings, Romney earned more than $193,000 in compensation in 2010, the last year he served on Marriott's board.

He left to run for president, and seemingly took a lot of loyalty with him. 

Nearly half of the $352,000 that Marriott employees gave during the 2012 presidential election went to Romney's campaign committee, data on Influence Explorer shows. The $140,000 he collected made him the biggest beneficiary of Marriott contributions, and included $5,000 from J.W. Marriott III, son of the company CEO. (President Obama, whom Romney challenged unsuccessfully this year, also makes the top ten list of Marriott beneficiaries though he trails a distant No. 7 with $11,000 in contributions.) In addition, Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supported Romney (mostly by running negative ads against Obama and Romney's GOP primary opponents), received a combined $2 million from J.W. Marriott, the CEO of the hotel chain, and his son, Richard. 

Since the early 1990s, Marriott and its employees have given $6.6 million in campaign contributions and Romney ranks No. 1 on the all time list of recipients as well, with nearly $270,000 in contributions.

The benefits were mutual: Romney put his travelling entourage in Marriott hotels whenever possible, and, according to one story in the Washington Post, the candidates' aides served as touts for the hotel chain, urging reporters to sign up for Marriott's loyalty program.

Marriott also voluntarily reported contributing more than $200,000 to nonprofit groups during the first half of 2012, including  $50,000 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most active outside campaign donors in 2012. Other Marriott donations to nonprofits included $100,000 to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade association; and $35,000 to Immigrations Works USA, a national organization promoting immigration reform, according to the Center for Public Accountability.
Immigration has been one of Marriott's top lobbying issues in this session of Congress, Influence Explorer shows. Marriott has spent $870,000 lobbying during this session of Congress, mainly on legislation designed to facilitate tourism and travel — bills that in the post-9/11 climate, have become security and immigration issues. Since the early 1990s, the company's lobbying expenses have topped $14 million, according to Influence Explorer.

Marriott said in a statement that Romney will be joining a "diverse" board. For one thing, it includes Democrats. 

Debra Lee, CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET), has donated $141,000 since 1989, the great majority of it to Democrats. This year Lee donated $15,000 to the Obama Victory Fund; in 2008, she gave $500 to Romney.

Another Democratic supporter, George Muñoz, an investment banker, gave $92,350 to Democrats, including $5,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2008.

Mary K. Bush, a member of several other major corporate boards and a former government financial executive, has given to both Democrats and Republicans.  She supported Obama but in the past contributed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Overall, she's given just over $9,000 in political contributions, less than any other Marriott board member. 

Other Marriott board members and their political donations include:

  • Arne Sorenson, Marriott's CEO, has given almost $80,000 in political donations since 2004, including $7,600 to Romney’s campaigns for president and, earlier, for Massachusetts governor.
  • Lawrence Small resigned his post as head of the Smithsonian after outcry about his extravagant expenses, which Sen. Charles Grassley, R., Iowa, called a “Dom Perignon lifestyle." Before his exit from the Smithsonian, Small was president and CEO of Fannie Mae from 1991 to 2000. While there, he gave himself million dollar bonuses, according to a report by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.  Small made just one contribution this election cycle, donating $2,500 to Romney. This pales in comparison to his $59,000 in political giving during his tenure at Fannie Mae.
  • Lawrence W. Kellner, president of the Emerald Group, a private equity firm, has given at least $324,000 since 1989. This includes $41,000 for fellow Texan and Republican David Dewhurst, who failed in his attempt to win his party's Senate nomination this year. .
  • Steven S. Reinemund served as former CEO at PepsiCo. Since 1991 he has donated $122,000, mostly to Republicans. In the last cycle, he gave to Marriott International's PAC, soon-to-be ex-Rep. Ben Quayle R-Ariz., and North Carolina Gov.-elect Pat McCrory. 
  • Harry J. Pearce came to Marriott after serving as chairman of Nortel Networks Corporation and director of General Motors. Since 1990, he has given $84,000 in political donations, including $37,000 for to the General Motors PAC, as well as $7,300 for Romney.

(Contributing: Lindsay Young, Nancy Watzman, Kathy Kiely)