In a world of super PACs, Mitt Romney rules

In a world of super PACs, Mitt Romney rules
Allies moved fastest to exploit new system
By Michael Kranish
Globe Staff / June 10, 2012

It seemed like just another campaign appearance - Mitt Romney taking
time from the trail to address a ballroom full of well-heeled donors.

It was anything but. When Romney spoke last summer at fund-raisers for
a super PAC run by three of his former top aides, it marked a turning
point in his campaign and, in some ways, in the modern history of
campaign finance.

The group, Restore Our Future, capitalized on Romney’s support to
raise $57 million by the end of April and has become one of the most
powerful forces in the race for the White House - the financial engine
behind the fusillade of broadcast ads, most of them harshly negative,
that felled his GOP challengers one by one.

No candidate in the 2012 race adapted more swiftly and effectively to
the rise of the super PACs in the wake of US Supreme Court and other
rulings that effectively removed any barriers to individual and
corporate donations to such so-called independent groups.

The other GOP contenders’ backers raised not nearly as much, and
President Obama, long a harsh critic of super PACs, only recently
urged his supporters to get into the game.

Romney’s appearances at the fund-raisers offer a compelling case study
of just how fuzzy the line between a candidate and the purportedly
independent committees backing him has become. Romney says he has
carefully adhered to the new rules, which allow candidates to be a
“featured guest’’ at fund-raisers.

But others view the matter more skeptically. A public interest group,
Democracy 21, recently asked the Justice Department to investigate
what it called “illegal coordination’’ between Romney’s campaign and
Restore our Future. Spokesmen for the Romney campaign and the
committee have dismissed the complaint as baseless.

What is not in dispute is that super PACs, both those supporting
Romney and President Obama, are changing the face of presidential
campaigns and could well determine who becomes president.

The result is that the presidential campaign is operating on two
tracks: one in which a campaign can collect no more than $5,000 per
donor and is responsible for its ads, and shadow campaigns in the form
of super PACs, which can receive millions of dollars from a single
donor and run ads for which the candidate can claim no responsibility.

The story of Restore Our Future provides a unique window into this
still-evolving world. It is the story of several former Romney aides
who were frustrated by the way he lost his 2008 campaign and had an
epiphany about how to win in 2012.

For the aides, the issue in 2008 was Romney’s refusal to run a very
tough ad in Iowa against Mike Huckabee - a decision they believe
contributed to Romney’s defeat. Huckabee had an independent group
behind him, a group that spent $1 million blasting Romney’s flip-flop
on abortion.