WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the crucial race for big-money fundraisers in the Republican presidential primary. Since April, he has received contributions from 204 donors who previously bundled millions of dollars for the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain.
Romney is trouncing the rest of the field in winning the support of these influential party insiders. He has raised $798,987 in campaign contributions from the 204 bundlers and their families. His closest competitor in this race is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has raised $231,400 from 59 bundlers and their families.
"People in the Republican Party who are good fundraisers, good bundlers, want someone who can win and someone they can trust," said Lawrence Finder, a Houston-based partner at the law firm Haynes and Boone who raised more than $500,000 for the McCain campaign and now backs Romney. "I think that's why they're gravitating towards Romney."
Bundlers are donors who raise money for campaigns by tapping their own networks of friends, relations and co-workers. Campaigns routinely offer bundlers incentives for their fundraising, including special access to the campaign and involvement in strategy. But the real prize comes if the candidate wins the White House. Traditionally, a number of plum positions, including ambassadorships, go to supporters who helped raise the most money.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said it's no surprise that Romney leads the Republican field in this crucial contest.
"This is smart money," Sabato explained. "These are people who know what they're doing. They've assessed the candidates well. Many of them are in the influence business, and they don't like backing losers. It hurts their business."
Bundlers giving to Romney include hotel magnate John Marriott, senior-community owner H. Gary Morse, lobbyist Wayne Berman and Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard, who also serves as Romney's Florida finance co-chair.
The big-money donors' support of Romney did slow up in the months of July through September. According to a previous HuffPost report, Romney received contributions from 156 Bush and McCain bundlers and their families of $625,587 from April through June. Since then, he has only received contributions from 48 bundlers and their families for a total of $173,400.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has picked up less than one-third of Romney's haul from big-money bundlers, but he raised more money from more bundlers from July through September than Romney did. The 59 bundlers and their families giving to Perry ponied up a total of $231,400 in those months.
Perry has even picked up support from some donors who previously donated to Romney. Thirteen bundlers gave to Romney before Perry entered the race on Aug. 3 and have since sent maximum contributions to the Texas governor's campaign.
A deeper examination of bundlers giving to Perry reveals a weakness that mirrors a flaw in Perry's overall fundraising. While he raised $17 million in the third quarter of 2011, the most of any Republican candidate, Perry is far too reliant on money from his home state. Sixty percent of the $16 million that he raised from donors giving more than $250 came from Texas donors. The same can be said about the bundlers supporting his candidacy. Fifty percent of the bundlers giving to his campaign -- 30 out of 59 -- were Texans.
Not every bundler from Texas, however, is giving to the Perry campaign. Seventeen big-money fundraisers from Texas have contributed solely to the Romney campaign.
Finder, for example, noted that, after initially supporting former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he was approached by both the Perry and Romney camps.
"I thought the best person to support was Mitt Romney," Finder said. "It wasn't even close in my mind. When I asked the candidates their positions, Mitt Romney was unequivocal. He was able to give me succinct answers."
A large number of former Bush and McCain bundlers are still sitting on the sidelines. More than 1,000 have not yet contributed to any one of the Republican candidates.
But some of the bigger names among uncommitted bundlers recently came out in support of Romney after their preferred candidates failed to enter the primary race. Home Depot founder Ken Langone announced his backing of Romney after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declined to run. Langone's endorsement was followed by support from hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer.
Langone backed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, raising more than $500,000 for his campaign. Singer raised more than $500,000 for both Giuliani and McCain in 2008 and more than $100,000 for the Bush campaign in 2004.
The names of Bush and McCain bundlers are available because those campaigns voluntarily disclosed their names to the public. None of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates has released a list of bundlers. President Barack Obama discloses his bundlers on his campaign website in conjunction with the disclosure of his quarterly campaign finance reports.
A report by iWatch News found that nearly 200 bundlers for Obama's 2008 election campaign "landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events."