Sept. 18, 2012 — -- Before a May 17 fundraising dinner at a Florida mansion, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the reporters who'd been tailing him on the campaign trail that he was sorry they couldn't follow him inside.
"Too bad you can't come to the fundraisers," Romney told reporters.
While the journalists were left outside, however, someone inside the lavishly catered dinner decided to do a little freelance reporting, creating the latest viral recording to jar a national political campaign.
A camera secretly recorded Romney from a serving table at the edge of the room as he addressed an audience of 40 or 50 at the $50,000-a-plate event, delivering remarks that would make headlines four months later. Romney dismissed Obama supporters as entitled "victims."
"There are 47 percent who are with him," said Romney, "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what."
Romney also joked that he'd have an easier path to victory if his father, who was born in Mexico, was actually Latino. "Had he been born of Mexican parents, I would have a better shot of winning this thing."
The camera rolled for 49 and a half minutes. Whoever recorded Romney's remarks then provided the tape to Mother Jones magazine, which published the full video on its website today.
Monika Bauerlein, co-editor of Mother Jones, told ABC News she would not disclose the identity of the magazine's source.
"This is somebody that, as people would be, was excited about being in the room with a Presidential candidate," said Bauerlein. She said the tape "did not come from opposition researchers or a political campaign."
James Carter IV, grandson of the former president and a political researcher, found the first posted snippet of the video on the internet and put Mother Jones in touch with the video's source. Carter told MSNBC today that "it would be fair to assume" that the videographer was not one of the wealthy donors who'd paid $50,000 to eat dinner with Mitt Romney.
The video is shot across the top of a marble-topped table that is apparently being used to serve wine and ice, with a clear view in-between various pitchers and decanters. A short stack of bar napkins is visible to the left. About four minutes into the tape, the camera angle is adjusted, and a pitcher on the right is moved out of the way. Later, a wine decanter on the right is maneuvered out of the shot.
At one point, a waitress can be heard placing an order with the bartender, saying, "Four martini glasses, please."The back story of how and why the tapes were made and worked their way to the mainstream media provides a rare look at an increasingly common political tactic, according to Democratic strategist Doug Thornell.
"I think one of the most influential, important developments in campaigns over the last ten years is the viral video that catches a candidate," said Democratic consultant Doug Thornell.
The Romney tapes were first posted on line on You Tube on May 31, two weeks after the speech, by a new user with and account called "Romney Exposed."
But the clip including Romney's comment about the 47 percent was not among the first posted and it wasn't until last month that an excerpt about Chinese labor conditions and Bain began to get limited notice. In the clip, Romney recounts going to China "to buy a factory there."
Democratic party operatives began to take notice in August, including those who work in Washington at American Bridge, a superPAC with the mission of recording virtually every word Romney or Ryan says, looking for a possible slip up.
According to Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge, "It just needs to be uploaded to YouTube, one person sees it, sends it to four or five other people, it gets Tweeted out and the next thing you know you've got millions of people seeing this."
But then late in August Mother Jones magazine was put in touch with the videographer by James Carter. The magazine's editors realized the potential impact of the now infamous 47 percent clip, which had previously gone unnoticed.
"Once we had the full tape, which was several weeks ago, it jumped out at us immediately," said Bauerlein. "But [we] needed to take some time to really make sure we had a story that was completely solid. You know, verify it, fact check, do additional reporting."
Romney is hardly the first politician to be tripped up by remarks not intended to be public.
Republicans scored a similar coup four years ago when a blogger caught Obama on tape at a private fundraising event, talking about the members of the conservative right.
Obama told his audience in San Francisco that "it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Under Florida law it is a crime, a felony, to secretly record someone who has a reasonable expectation they are not being recorded. But many say anyone running for President should always expect that they may be recorded by someone, somehow.
"The thing that candidates have to worry about is that every event that they're at, there's no such thing as off the record anymore," said Doug Thornell. "These are moments that campaigns live for. And certainly in this instance, Mitt Romney provided Democrats with a gold mine of rhetoric. "