Romney's Latest Money Scheme

If there's one thing the Mitt Romney team excels at, it's manipulating campaign finance rules. Back in 2004, they were the first to set up individual state-level Political Action Committees to augment Romney's federal "leadership PAC," the Commonwealth Political Action Committee. Through intertwined state party committees, joint fundraising, "Super PACs," and other maneuvers, they have danced a series of clever lines over the years to maximize the amount of money Romney's wealthy donors could put to use for Romney's benefit.

The team has now found another new technique -- one that will allow the Romney campaign to direct large sums of money, as needed, to state GOP committees in battleground states.

The Massachusetts Republican Party -- where, as I've reported, Romney friends and loyalists recently took control of key leadership positions -- will play a central part in this scheme. And it will be directed largely by the Crate brothers, Darrell and Bradley, out of Beverly, Massachusetts.

This week, the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) established a joint-fundraising account, "Romney Victory Inc." The idea is that donors can write one big check to the joint account, which can then be divvied up between Romney's campaign committee and the RNC.

Nothing especially unique about that. But the paperwork filed with the Federal Election Committee shows that several other committees are included in the arrangement --  including the Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee, as well as the Idaho Republican Party, the Oklahoma Leadership Council, and the Vermont Federal Elections Committee.

These are the federal fundraising committees of those state parties. As you may have noticed, none of those four states taking part in this scheme are expected to be at all competitive in the Presidential race; Romney will win Oklahoma and Idaho, and lose Massachusetts and Vermont, by sizable margins. So why would the Romney campaign and the RNC raise money for them?

The answer: so they can re-direct the money to states that need it.

Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul responded to my inquiry by email, explaining:

The joint fundraising committee includes state parties that are permitted by federal election law to make unlimited federal dollar transfers to the battleground state parties.

This is essentially correct. Federal law does not limit transfers from federal party committees -- like the Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee -- to state party committees. State laws, however, do govern the amounts -- but it so happens that most of the anticipated "battleground states" in the 2012 Presidential election effectively allow unlimited transfers of this type.

So, these four accounts will receive contributions and funnel them, in bulk, to the state GOP committees in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, New Hampshire, or wherever the money might prove useful.

According to Romney Victory fundraising documents, the first $5000 in an individual's contributions to Romney Victory will go to the Romney campaign (the $2500 maximum for use in the primary campaign, which technically runs through the convention, and the $2500 maximum for the general election). The next $30,800 goes to the RNC, again the maximum allowed.

The individual contributions to state parties' federal committees are limited to $10,000. So, up to $40,000 more can be contributed to Romney Victory, and will be split four ways among the Massachusetts, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Vermont committees.

This arrangement will greatly expand the amount Romney can direct for use in this campaign -- essentially doubling it in one swipe. He has a large group of donors willing to give large sums, but has so far proven unable to raise significant sums from low-dollar contributors. His wealthy donors will now be able to write a $75,000 check, or $150,000 per couple.

Technically, of course, the MassGOP could hold onto the money sent its way by Romney Victory under this arrangement -- maybe even use some of it to assist its own candidates. At least in Massachusetts, there won't be any need for the Romney team to worry about that. As I've been reporting, Romney friends and loyalists have recently secured all of the leadership positions at the party, including new state chairman Robert Maginn, former Bain Capital cohort and Romney national finance co-chair; and new national committeewoman Kerry Healey, Romney's former lieutenant governor.

The "designated agent" for the Romney Victory committee is Bradley Crate -- well-known to Bay State Republicans. He served in the Romney administration, and was on Romney's 2008 finance staff; this time around he's the campaign's CFO via his consulting firm Red Curve Solutions in Beverly, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His brother, Darrell Crate, was MassGOP chairman when Romney was governor -- he is an executive at AMG, the financial firm run by Healey's husband -- and is the treasurer of Romney's committee. He bills the campaign through Easterly Capital, at the same address as Red Curve.

That same Beverly address is where top Romney advisers Stuart Stevens, Russ Schriefer, and Eric Ferhnstrom also bill the campaign for their services, through their firm American Rambler.

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