June 22, 2012 -- While most Americans will be enjoying the first weekend of summer outside and away from work, Mitt Romney will host his richest campaign donors at a retreat in Utah where they'll have access to high-profile Republicans who would likely be in the candidate's administration if he wins the race.
Usually, party bigwigs and donors have to wait until the conventions to hear leaders speak and rub elbows with the GOP elite, but not this summer, as many will be descending on the tony Deer Valley resort area of Park City beginning today.
The guest list is impressive — James Baker, Mike Leavitt, Bobby Jindal, Meg Whitman, Paul Ryan, John Thune, Condoleezza Rice, Rob Portman, Bob McDonnell, Tim Pawlenty, and many more recognizable GOP figures.
Including Karl Rove, the mastermind of George W. Bush's presidency whose super PAC is raising millions of dollars to spend against President Obama in commercials. The confab in Utah is a reward for so-called campaign bundlers who have gathered donations for Romney, many of them around $150,000. But that money is limited by campaign finance law, whereas super PAC money is unrestricted. Just as the bundlers will have access to potential VPs, Rove will be in the same room as all of the donors, many of whom probably have more money to spend and know lots of other rich supporters who do, too.
And while the guest list of high-profile Republicans is known, the arguably more important list of donors is not. Romney has refused to disclose the identities of his bundlers, breaking a practice set by presidential candidates for more than a decade before him, including President Obama.
People who could end up in Romney's cabinet or even share his ballot will be rubbing elbows with fundraisers, most of them who want to keep their identity unknown. They will get to attend policy discussions, hear about the plans for the campaign in which they are investing, and spend time with the candidate himself.
Romney has been criticized for other less-than-transparent moves. He released only one year of his tax returns; Obama disclosed seven. His father, George Romney, famously set the precedent of politicians releasing their returns when he ran for president in 1968.
Romney has also not agreed to a "protective pool" of reporters who would follow his every move, even in transit. By this time in 2008, Obama had already signed on to a traveling press corps, and McCain began in August. Romney already has journalists who cover events with him daily, but they don't always travel with him. The events at the First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat are closed to the press, but journalists will still descend on Park City this weekend hoping to garner any details of the confab.
Not all of his fundraisers are open to the press, but not all of the president's are either. In April, reporters standing outside of a Romney fundraiser on a sidewalk were able to overhear Romney give donors more details about federal departments he wanted to get rid of than he usually delves into on the stump.
Many bundlers are looking to raise up to $1 million each for Romney's campaign. Of course, the Rove super PAC and Romney's super PAC will have an easier time doing that because they can take contributions that aren't limited by law. The Federal Election Commission bars campaigns and super PACs from "coordinating" on how they'll spend money on ads, but that rule is almost impossible to enforce and is vague in its details.
During the GOP primary, both Romney and his rival Rick Santorum addressed their own super PACs, which would also seem to come close to crossing a line, but not if the candidate leaves before donors are formally asked to give money at the events. Of course, no watchdogs are allowed to monitor the events.
Rove's very presence at the donor retreat pushes Romney closer to the fine line between campaign and super PAC. He's scheduled to speak about "media insight" along with the Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg, Weekly Standard editors Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin.
Romney will address everyone tonight, and the party continues Saturday with policy sessions (featuring John McCain and Jeb Bush), and Sunday with golf.