Big Romney donors turn to PACs before GOP convention

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is running short of political cash to spend in the weeks before the parties' nominating conventions because many of his donors have given his campaign as much as they can.

However, some of Romney's most prolific donors have found another outlet for their money. Nearly 1 in 10 of the campaign's largest donors also have contributed to Restore Our Future, together giving nearly $16 million to the pro-Romney super PAC, a USA TODAY analysis of new campaign-finance reports finds.

The findings highlight the parallel campaign-finance systems operating in this year's presidential election. Candidates face strict limits on what they can collect for their campaigns, even as super PACs run by their friends and former aides raise unlimited sums.

The USA TODAY analysis shows that 144 of Romney's top donors gave to Restore Our Future. Thirty-eight of President Obama's big givers also donated to Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC aiding him.

"You have more wealthy Republicans who are motivated to open their wallets," said Richard Hasen, a campaign-finance expert at the University of California-Irvine's law school. "This is seen as an election that is a referendum on Obama's attitude toward business."

Restore Our Future raised $20.7 million in June, its best month yet - and more than three times the amount that flowed to the pro-Obama super PAC last month.

In an interview last week with The Toledo (Ohio) Blade, Romney complained his campaign was running low on cash to compete with Obama's advertising onslaught in battleground states. Romney and the Republican National Committee outraised Obama and the Democratic Party in June, but campaign-finance rules bar Romney from spending his substantial stockpile of general-election funds until he is formally nominated at his party's national convention at the end of August.

"We are massively outspent by a president that had no primary," Romney told the newspaper. "We are able to both shift into general election funds after our conventions, and we will be able to be more competitive, and you'll (be able) to see more of us as that occurs."

Campaign reports filed late Friday show Obama had roughly $68 million in pre-convention cash available at the end of June vs. Romney's estimated $19 million.

However, Restore Our Future and another GOP super PAC, American Crossroads, ended June with a combined $53.1 million in cash reserves that they can use to supplement Romney's advertising. Indeed, two days after Romney's interview, Crossroads announced a $9.3 million advertising campaign in nine battleground states on his behalf. Campaigns and super PACs are barred from coordinating their spending.

"Governor Romney has been raising a lot of money, but due to campaign laws much of it cannot be spent until after the Republican convention," Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said in an e-mail Sunday. "Obama has taken advantage of that and outspent Romney 6-1, so it was critical to get involved."

Charlie Spies, Restore Our Future's treasurer, declined to comment about the super PAC's common donors with the Romney campaign or its future spending. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Restore Our Future is a "separate entity."

The USA TODAY analysis examined donations from the roughly 1,500 people who have given at least $30,000 to Romney and the joint fundraising operation he shares with GOP committees. Among the ranks of Romney largest donors who also have written checks to Restore Our Future: Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and hedge fund managers Julian Robertson and John Paulson.

Jeremy Andrus, the CEO of headphone company Skullcandy, has donated $47,500 to Romney's joint fundraising efforts with the RNC and state parties and $50,000 to Restore Our Future. Romney and Andrus' father, Brent, roomed together as Mormon missionaries in France in the 1960s. He said he considers Romney a family friend and a "great leader."

Andrus said donating to the PAC was his idea. "They have the opportunity to raise a good amount of money and get a good message out there about a candidate," he said.

More than 2,500 people donated at least $30,000 to Obama's campaign and his joint-fundraising efforts. Fewer than 2% gave to Priorities USA Action. Double-donors include: Jeffrey "J.J." Abrams, who produced the TV show Lost, and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, who gave $1.5 million to the super PAC.


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