Among all the super PACs that have deluged the presidential nomination race with big-money donations, only the one allied with Mitt Romney has established a pattern of accepting major contributions from corporate entities that obscure the actual source of the money or appear to have been created specifically as vehicles to mask the wealthy donors’ identities.
Twice, Restore Our Future has amended its reports to the Federal Election Commission after media reports indicated that contributions of $1 million and $250,000 were made through dummy limited liability companies (LLCs). In each case, individuals with past associations to Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Romney, or Bain and Co., the consulting firm Romney helped save, acknowledged they were the source.
But there are many additional instances of this practice. A Globe analysis identified nearly $4 million of the $43.2 million Restore Our Future had raised through the end of February that came from at least 16 spinoffs of better-known corporations or from LLCs, some of them dummies. There is no parallel pattern in any of the other Republican- or Democratic-leaning super PACs, which have proliferated to support individual presidential candidates or partisan causes.
Restore Our Future has decimated Romney’s chief opponents for the Republican presidential nomination with negative advertising and has emerged as a political powerhouse in the new world of campaign finance after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case two years ago opened the doors to unlimited corporate, labor union, and personal money to influence elections.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul, in response to a Globe inquiry, said in an e-mail: “Restore Our Future is an independent group which acts independently from the campaign.’’
Charles Spies, treasurer of Restore Our Future and one of several former Romney campaign aides working for the super PAC, declined to comment for this story. Brittany Gross, spokeswoman for the super PAC, said in an e-mail: “We don’t comment on specific donors.’’ Super PAC officials have said that they follow all Federal Election Commission disclosure guidelines, but the Globe identified at least 16 instances where the officials reported not the contact persons behind significant contributions but the less revealing corporate or LLC identities provided by the donors.
In the case of Gross’s response, the Globe had asked her for information about the source of a $5,000 donation that Restore Our Future reported was made last June by “Legacy Trust Dated 9/25/02’’ with an address in Tampa. The Globe could not locate the trust in an online search of Florida corporate records or court records in Hillsborough County, Fla.
“There seems to be a use of LLCs to make it far more difficult to know what’s going on,’’ Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for more transparency on campaign finance issues, said of Restore Our Future’s reporting practices. “We saw $1 million contributions coming masked from LLCs, and only when stories were done did they amend their reports to show who really gave the money.’’
Wertheimer was referring to a contribution by “W Spann LLC,’’ a New York City-based entity that gave Restore Our Future $1 million in April 2011, five weeks after it was formed and seven weeks before it was dissolved, and a $250,000 donation from “Glenbrook LLC’’ with an address of a Redwood City, Calif., accounting firm. After a series of news media stories, Edward Conard, a former executive of Bain Capital, revealed that he was the $1 million donor behind W Spann, and Jesse Rogers, a former executive of Bain and Co., disclosed that he and his wife were the source of the $250,000 contribution from Glenbrook.
In each case, Restore Our Future said it was complying with all federal disclosure laws at the time it recorded the contributions.
The pattern, however, extends well beyond those donations.
For instance, on March 31, 2011, the super PAC reported $1 million contributions from Eli Publishing Inc. and F8 LLC, both of the same address, an accounting firm in Provo, Utah. State corporate records listed Eli Publishing’s agent as Steven Lund, a top corporate figure in Nu Skin, a health products company and a big Romney supporter. Lund told a Salt Lake City television station that the corporation was originally set up to publish a book. F8’s agent was listed as Lund’s son-in-law, Jeremy Blickenstaff, who owns a store in Utah and is a former Nu Skin official. Neither returned Globe phone calls.
A $250,000 contribution to Restore Our Future in July 2011 from Paumanok Partners LLC, with a New Canaan, Conn., post office box address, is apparently tied to William Laverack Jr., a big Romney supporter who heads Laverack Capital Partners, a private investment firm. A New York Times graphics editor found information from a website under construction that linked Laverack to the contribution. Laverack also did not return calls from the Globe.
Two donors who gave under the names of companies related to but not their primary businesses told the Globe their contributions using those entities were not an attempt to obscure their identities.
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire chief executive of Red Apple Group, which owns chains of supermarkets in New York and convenience stores/filling stations in New York and other states as well as other holdings, said in a Globe interview he had the check to Restore Our Future for $25,000 come from a Pennsylvania-based company he controls and which supplies his gas stations, not to obscure his role but because “oil companies are on the enemies list of the current administration.’’
Catsimatidis is a major Romney fund-raiser.
Similarly, Marshall Merrifield, a longtime Romney backer and entrepreneur who owns a security device business in Carlsbad, Calif., said his use of a holding company, Tiger Ventures LLC, to make a $5,000 contribution to Restore Our Future last January was not an attempt to conceal his identity. “When you max out personally,’’ Merrifield said of making the maximum $2,500 donation to Romney’s campaign, “the super PAC is this sort of new game, an out of the box situation, and another way to help out.’’
His LLC is actually listed in California corporate records at another address in nearby San Diego under the name of a former controller of his company. The Globe reached Merrifield through the property manager of an office complex listed by the super PAC as the address of the LLC.
Restore Our Future spokeswoman Gross did not respond to an e-mail requesting an interview with the super PAC’s fund-raising consultant, Steve Roche. Roche has been a major Romney fund-raising operative since Romney’s campaign for governor of Massachusetts and left the presidential campaign last summer to work for the super PAC. You won’t find his name in any of Restore Our Future’s expenditure reports, however. Roche is being paid through an entity called Podium Capital Group, which he established a few months before leaving the Romney for president campaign. His name appears nowhere in the online corporate records in Delaware where Podium Capital Group was created. It’s a limited liability company with an address of a post office box in Beverly, Mass.
Podium Capital Group has been paid more than $1.9 million for “fund-raising services’’ by Restore Our Future, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.