When oil and chemical baron David Koch took his seat among the throngs of Republican grassroots activists on the convention floor in Tampa this week, he was making a rare appearance on behalf of the small group of wealthy donors who are bankrolling a good portion of Mitt Romney's bid for president.
For the past several days in Tampa, Koch has been the exception. Most of the deep-pocketed donors -- the ones fundraising consultants call "the whales" -- have spent the convention largely out of sight.
Unlike Koch, they have watched the parade of speakers at the convention podium from high above, in a vast luxury skybox on the fourth and fifth levels of the Tampa Times Forum. Their box was cordoned off by ropes and blocked from public view by a velvet curtain.
The lofty perch, with its leather sofas, flowing liquor, and platters of food, offers a potent symbol of the enhanced role in the 2012 campaign for the wealthiest donors, according to Charles Lewis, an academic and campaign watchdog who has monitored the role of money in politics for years.
"It's where we are in American politics," Lewis said. "We have billionaires giving unprecedented sums and we have levels of secrecy never seen in the contemporary historic era."
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor who has been tracking money in the 2012 elections, said he has calculated that 47 individual Americans have given 42 percent of the money in this year's presidential campaign. "We have never had an election, in the last hundred years, that has had this type of money," he said.
That phenomenon has been most evident with a group of $1 million supporters of the Romney campaign called the "Victory Council." While the Romney campaign has kept the identities of his top-level fundraising team a secret, ABC News has been able to track their movements throughout the convention, and has slowly begun to identify them.
This week, the "Victory Council" has gathered in private receptions at museums and in hotel suites during the day, and attended the convention in a private suite at night. Today, they received a morning political briefing from Romney's senior staff, and then were whisked in SUVs to a private luncheon with Romney at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
Reporters were held well back from the scene, as the candidate's motorcade pulled in shortly after 11 a.m. Among those spotted by ABC News was Wilbur Ross, a Palm Beach billionaire who oversees the private equity firm W.L. Ross and Co. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that Ross has given $470,000 in contributions in his time as a political donor.
On Wednesday, the group gathered aboard a 150-foot yacht moored at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Those attending included Ron Weiser, the campaign's national finance chairman and the former ambassador to Slovakia under President George W. Bush, Virginia developer Bob Pence, independent oil and gas producer Charles Moncrief, Georgia-based investment advisor Greg Schwartz, Sr., and Richard W. Boyce, a former Bain colleague of Romney's.
Many of the supporters covered their name tags as they exited the event. One of them, when asked his name, began to trot to his waiting SUV.
"Can't say your name?" he was asked by ABC News.
"No. Gotta run -- thank you," he said.