Zwick is among a close-knit group of senior Romney advisers who have created or work at firms that have collected millions of dollars in consulting fees from the campaign. In some cases, they also are bringing in money from the super PAC aiding Romney’s run for the White House, according to recent campaign disclosures.
Although many candidates hire firms created by former staff members, the extent of the Romney campaign’s reliance on such companies is unusual for a major presidential bid, experts say. Many of the firms Romney uses are run by former aides from his 2008 campaign.
The arrangement not only benefits several of those close to the former Massachusetts governor but also makes it harder to determine how he is spending his donors’ money, because salaries and other details about outside operations are kept under wraps.
Romney campaign officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said their use of consultants is no different than that of numerous other candidates, including President Obama.
Most political campaigns hire consultants to produce ads, run polling and perform other specialized work. Obama, for example, has a clutch of longtime advisers, such as David Axelrod, who run outside consulting shops that do business for the campaign.
But a number of Republican political strategists with no preferences in this presidential contest said Romney’s heavy use of consultants for fundraising is particularly rare in a national race.
Romney has paid Zwick’s firm $4.6 million for fundraising consulting, for example, compared with the $75,000 Obama reported for the same type of expenditure.
“The bottom line is that a lot of consultants are making a lot of money from Mitt Romney, with mixed results,” said one unaffiliated GOP campaign finance lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
A more conventional approach was used by George W. Bush, who kept most of his top aides in house and even required famed GOP political adviser Karl Rove to sell his consulting shop before coming on board.
“That was the model that Bush followed, that [Robert J.] Dole followed,” said Michael Toner, a campaign finance lawyer who worked on the Bush team. “It was seen as cost-effective. You have really smart people working directly for the campaign who are 100 percent focused on the presidential race. Consulting costs can be minimized, and you have exclusive control.”
Many campaign strategists nevertheless say they remain impressed by Romney’s organization, which has outraised the rest of the GOP field and has been helped by a well-funded super PAC. The campaign has employed uncommon fundraising strategies such as telethon-type events, in which chief executives and other wealthy supporters compete to raise as much money as possible for the campaign in a single day.