“Hotel to the jet center?” said another. “How many minutes?”
Away from the populist-tinged events of the regular Republican convention is a far more exclusive set of gatherings tailored especially to the billionaires and other well-heeled donors who have become a defining presence in the 2012 elections.
Thousands of donors have flown to Tampa for special access to Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders, from billionaire oilman David Koch — seen chatting with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has been holding court in a nearby Cuban restaurant and will be hobnobbing with Romney and his aides.
But it’s not just favorable policies and access: Many mega-donors, it seems, just want to feel special.
Thus an elite group of top donors gathered at a St. Petersburg marina Wednesday for a reception aboard the “Cracker Bay,” a 147-foot yacht owned by Florida developer H. Gary Morse, whose companies and relatives have funneled more than $1.5 million to Romney and his allies. The ship was flying the merchant flag of the Cayman Islands, the tax haven where Romney has investment holdings, according to ABC News, which first reported on the event.
The floating soiree featured a speech by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and was attended by shopping center magnate Mel Sembler, energy billionaire Wilbur Ross and several dozen others who have raised more than $1 million each for Romney’s presidential effort, officials said.
The donors are part of Romney’s elite “Victory Council,” above and beyond the “Stripes” bundlers who have raised $500,000 and “Stars” who have brought in $250,000. Many are ensconced at the Vinoy Renaissance resort in St. Petersburg, amounting to a shadow convention of sorts, where access depends on how much you bring in.
The most senior bundlers — none of whom have been officially identified by the Romney campaign — will get a two-hour private luncheon on Thursday with Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), his running mate, according to an event schedule. Lower levels, including “Founding Partners” couples who have contributed $100,000, get a special “Green Room” retreat buzzing with GOP luminaries.
The atmosphere underscores the importance of major donors to the Romney campaign, which has outraised President Obama over the past three months and prides itself on special retreats and other pampering for its top benefactors. Many of the same donors have also given handsomely to a network of nonprofit groups and super PACs raising unlimited funds to defeat Obama.