“They are very, very conscious of who has been there for the governor,” said Dirk Van Dongen, a top Romney fundraiser who heads the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, referring to the Republican fundraising operation. “We get appropriate recognition. The mood is very enthusiastic.”
The goodies in Tampa extend well beyond the official Romney campaign. Restore Our Future, a super PAC that has spent more than $50 million backing Romney’s candidacy, held a private breakfast meeting Wednesday featuring Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others. A group with ties to Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), the YG Action Fund, is host at a series of women-focused events this week under a pavilion named for Miriam Adelson, who together with her husband plans to give up to $100 million to Republicans this year.
Then there is the tide of lavish events sponsored by major corporations and lobbying firms. AT&T has commandeered an upscale bistro for much of the week, while the Distilled Spirits Council rented out the Florida Aquarium on Monday to dole out free liquor while scantily clad “mermaids” waved at patrons from inside a tank.
“Everyone wants to feel like a VIP,” said Liz Bartolomeo of the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks money in politics.
At the Hyatt event on Wednesday, donors ate from a buffet of chicken, tomatoes and mozzarella, and bean salad. Pollsters gave an encouraging view of their chances, pundit Bill Kristol talked about big ideas and Rove said the party needed to do a better job reaching out to Hispanics. In other words, not ground-breaking stuff.
“It’s a courtesy,” Kristol said of the event as he rode an escalator down to the lobby with donors.
In the lobby, Janice Reals Ellig, a New York headhunter, wore elephant earrings and a “Founding Member” pin identifying her as a donor of at least $50,000. She said that the campaign was keeping her busy. At dinner, Rove shared anecdotes about working with George W. Bush. (“They sparred to see who was reading more books.”) At a movie about education she met party grandees. (“Talking with Jeb Bush. . .”) Overall, she said, “it’s important to stay informed.”
Steven Law, who runs Crossroads GPS, a powerful GOP advocacy group, agreed: “It allows folks who are participating to feel like they got an opportunity to express their views and get real feedback in real time.”
He then rushed off to another confidential event.
The line between official campaigns and outsiders is often blurry. New Jersey congressional candidate Shmuley Boteach said at a Republican Jewish Coalition event Wednesday that Sheldon Adelson had promised $500,000 to “my super PAC,” a group that is legally supposed to be separate from the candidate. Boteach said the offer came during a private dinner between the two men in Ybor City, the entertainment district in Tampa.
At the same event, lawmakers including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), mingled with donors. Referring to the “people who buy the skyboxes,” Graham said “these are the people who are putting their money where their mouth is.”
He then walked over to Singer, a billionaire who has given more than $2 million to GOP causes this year, and stood in the front of the room near a table lined with cookies, chickpea fritters and “Obama. . .Oy Vey!” buttons.
Singer would not discuss the fundraising portion of the convention. “I have no interest,” he said to a reporter who asked about it.
Graham then popped over and told the hedge fund manager: “I’ll see you in New York.”
Eggen reported from Washington.