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In a world of super PACs, Mitt Romney rules

Allies moved fastest to exploit new system

2008

Three of Romney's top advisers during his failed presidential bid included from left to right: Larry McCarthy, advertising; Carl Forti, political adviser; Charles Spies, legal counsel.

Romney loses Iowa caucus after deciding not to run a tough ad against Mike Huckabee, frustrating some advisers who had urged him to run it. Huckabee wins the caucuses with help from an independent committee that attacks Romney's past support for abortion rights. Romney does not get support from a similar independent committee,a failure that his aides hope is remedied if he runs again.

2010

The US Supreme Court and a lower court rule that unlimited contributions to independent political committees from corporations and individuals are protected free speech. The Federal Election Commission subsequently says candidates can appear at fund-raisers for super PACs. This effectively clears the way for new committees to collect unlimited donations from people who could only give no more than $5,000 to candidates, and to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.

2011-'12

The three former Romney campaign aides, McCarthy, Spies and Forti, create the super PAC Restore Our Future, which dedicates itself to making Romney president. Romney appears at fund-raisers for group.The PAC collected $57 million by the end of April and runs a devastating series of ads against Romney's primary opponent, Newt Gingrich. The group expects to collect another $100 million for the general election race. President Obama, who once criticized such committees, authorizes aides to support them, setting off an unprecedented race for unlimited donations.

KEY PLAYERS
Larry McCarthy

Legendary Republican advertising guru, he created the "Willie Horton" ad in 1988 that helped sink then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis's presidential bid. McCarthy worked on ads for Romney's 2008 campaign and became a cofounder of Restore Our Future, developing ads that portrayed Gingrich as having too much "baggage" and helping Romney win the nomination.

Charles Spies

Longtime Romney admirer and former Federal Election Commission lawyer, he served as counsel to Romney's 2008 campaign. Co-founded Restore Our Future and serves as legal adviser. Spies is a longtime critic of federal limits on campaign donations.

Carl Forti

Former political adviser to Romney's 2008 campaign, he serves a similar role for Restore Our Future. He also plays a role in two committees set up by GOP strategist Karl Rove, who has called Forti "one of the smartest people in politics you've never heard of."

Bob Perry

Biggest contributor to Restore Our Future, giving $4.7 million by the end of April. Perry, a Texas home building magnate, played a similar role in 2004, giving $4.5 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked the war record of the Democratic nominee, John Kerry. The group was later fined $300,000 for failing to register as a political committee and taking large donations, limits that do not apply to super PACs.

SOURCE: Federal Election Commission; Democracy 21; US Supreme Court; Romney appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe;" Boston Globe clippings; Interviews with Restore Our Future officials.

Michael Kranish, James Abundis/Globe Staff

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