The name Mitt Romney is well-known because of the Senator’s 2012 presidential campaign against Barack Obama. Recognized as a native of Utah, he was also the governor of Massachusetts and had a rather long, storied political career. And while everyone evolves and changes, one thing about Senator Romney that has varied quite widely is his stance on campaign finance and backing.
A 2012 article from Politico addressed the issue, noting that Mr. Romney has experienced a “campaign-finance evolution,” and saying “Mitt Romney didn’t always think that more is better when it comes to campaign cash.” Implying that he’d since changed his ways, the article goes on to explain, “the GOP nominee has benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars spent on his behalf by conservative super PACs and secretive nonprofits. And he’s said that campaigns should be allowed to accept unlimited donations from individuals.
But running in Massachusetts for Senate in 1994 and governor in 2002, Romney decried the influence of Big Money in politics, suggesting public financing of campaigns and limits on spending.”
Federal campaign finance has changed substantially in those few years, and today there is a veritable flood of money pouring into campaigns. This is due, for the most part, to two major issues:
- The 2010 Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that “the free speech clause of the first amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations from making political expenditures.” The ruling looked at “laws that prevented corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds for independent “electioneering communications” (political advertising),” and essentially gave tremendous power to PACs and SuperPACs by allowing them to accept enormous sums.
According to the same source, the ruling “generated intense controversy outside the court. Some hailed it as a resounding victory for freedom of speech, while others criticized it as an overreaching attempt to rewrite campaign finance law.” A major opponent to the change was then-President Barack Obama who described the decision as opening “the floodgates for special interests…to spend without limit in our elections.”
- 2017 changes in IRS rules that aligned with new “Treasury Department policy that no longer requires some 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofits — including politically active 501(c)(4) ‘dark money’ groups — to disclose donor names and addresses in tax returns submitted to the IRS,” as one group
Dark money is something used by politicians and activists alike, and the term is a bit confusing. As the Center for Public Integrity explains, “sources behind most of the money raised by politicians and political groups are publicly disclosed. Candidates, parties and political action committees — including the super PACs that are allowed to accept unlimited amounts of money — all report the names of their donors to the Federal Election Commission…when the source of political money isn’t known, that’s dark money.”
The two most common channels for funding of this are “politically active nonprofits and corporate entities,” and some of the corporate entities become “black boxes” because the only thing known about them is their names, and these “LLCs can be used to make political expenditures themselves or to donate to super PACs”.
President Obama was correct about the floodgates of donations, and in recent years, spending of this kind“by groups that don’t fully disclose donors has exceeded $2 billion since the 2006 election cycle.
Direct dark money spending by groups funded entirely by anonymous donors hit nearly $150 million reported to the FEC for the 2018 election cycle alone. That doesn’t include additional money funneled to other groups spending in elections or spent on political ads couched as issue advocacy and digital advertising that remains largely untouched by FEC disclosure requirements.”
Senator Romney, for example, took in over one billion dollars during his 2012 presidential bid, which was the “first modern presidential campaign in which donors could give unlimited contributions for political ads and in which both major party candidates declined to participate in a Watergate-era public financing system designed to limit fundraising. The reports also show how the two candidates and their allies navigated the new big-money system using divergent strategies.”
Senator Romney’s campaign outspent Obama’s by more than $100 million and did exactly what many feared, “allowed extremely wealthy activists to play in presidential and congressional politics like never before.”
Massive increases in spending cannot come from traditional, small or even somewhat wealthy backers, but is instead from mega-rich donors, whom many feel are “effectively in control of American politics, writing six- and seven-figure checks to super PAC’s to support ad campaigns that confuse viewers and distort the views and records of candidates,” as one source said. Another pointed out that such donors and their influences can reshape everything from foreign policy to “subtle things that are less top of mind, less likely to be in the news — some amendment tucked into a larger bill…[and] greater access for friendly lobbyists.”
And so, Senator Romney’s rather radical switch in direction surprised many. From insisting there be caps on spending limits to his recent creation of a fundraising committee that is a “joint effort of the NRSC, the Senate GOP campaign arm, Romney’s Senate campaign, and Believe in America, his political action committee,” according to the Washington Examiner, it has been a real 180-degree turn.
In the Examiner article, it was noted that he is “putting his political muscle to work for Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, launching a new vehicle for high-dollar fundraising and planning to headline events around the country,” for the benefit of fellow Republicans in need of campaign funds.
In May of 2019, Newsweek also looked at the Senator’s funds in an article entitled “What Are Zombie Campaigns?” It opens with a surprising statement: “The Federal Election Commission on Wednesday sent out dozens of letters to long-dormant political campaigns asking the groups to clarify a critical issue: why they are still spending money.
The letters went out to various federal office seekers whose campaign remnants are generally allowed to spend money to wind down operations and pay off outstanding campaign debts. Some of the expenditures flagged by the FEC raise questions about whether the money was being used for valid purposes, which do not include expenses for one’s personal benefit.”
Senator Romney’s presidential campaign was labeled as a zombie campaign and tagged for spending on “compliance and legal consulting and document storage. These expenses flagged by the FEC set the campaign back around $40,000.”
An Associated Press report also noted that he got a “big financial boost from leftover funds from his past two unsuccessful bids for president” as he ramped up for his Senate run in 2018. He transferred $1 million from a ten-year-old account, prompting his one of his then competitors to question why Mr. Romney used funds “from the presidential campaign when [he] vowed to make the campaign all about Utah…’If he has millions of dollars left over from his presidential campaigns, that include donations from special interests and people outside of Utah, why didn’t he use that money to win and defeat Obama?’” asked his competitor, Rep Mike Kennedy.
Another candidate wondered publicly and stated that “Romney’s transfer of the presidential funds “leads one to wonder who he will represent?”
Again, the ugly head of potential influence is raised. So, that makes it the ideal time to begin looking at Senator Romney to determine if the funds he used for his Senate race created some sort of sway by those who had supplied them, or if he is loyal to his constituents in the work he does as a legislator. To determine answers, we’ll look at:
- The Senator’s publicly stated priorities and issues
- Senator Romney’s committee and caucus activities
- The Senator’s key sources of campaign funding
- Senator Romney’s most recent legislative items sponsored or co-sponsored
We are also going to examine other facts, including bipartisanship ratings, conservative rankings, and more, to reach conclusions.
For example, Senator Romney is too new to the Senate to have a spot in the Lugar Center Bipartisanship Index, but his “Trump Score” from FiveThirtyEight for the 116th Congress is higher than anticipated at almost 82% when it was believed he’d vote with the administration only 71% of the time. His Conservative Review rating is 80% and holds a letter grade of “B,” meaning that he leans towards conservative principles, but not always.
His approval ratings in the Senate are very high, with a ranking in 12th place out of 100 senators and a net approval of 43 from his party.Such figures show him to be both a dedicated Republican and one committed to conservative concepts, but it will take more data than to identify potential influences.
About Senator James Romney
Born in 1947 in Michigan, his parents raised the family as Mormon, but in an affluent Detroit suburb. His father attained celebrity status for his role as the CEO of American Motors, and this allowed the family to live rather luxuriously. His father then became the governor of Michigan, and Mitt attended a private school. He then moved on to Stanford University and then did a mission as part of his Mormon faith. He went to France and stayed there for several years and was considered very successful for the number of people he led into the church.
Upon his return, he began attending Brigham Young University and married his long-time girlfriend. He began working in politics, and his father was part of Richard Nixon’s cabinet. He took a BA in English in 1971, and he and his wife started their family, eventually having several children over the next decade.
His father convinced him to pursue a law degree, and so he obtained a JD from Harvard and relocated the family to Massachusetts. He entered into a career in business consulting and then private equity investments. His business career left him remarkably wealthy, and in the 1990s he made a move into politics. Initially registered as an Independent, and then a Democrat, he became an official Republican in 1993 when he decided to run against Ted Kennedy. He lost to Kennedy but decided that he might still continue in politics in the future if he knew he’d win.
In 1998, he was offered the opportunity to take over the Winter Olympics slated for 2002 in Park City, Utah. The family relocated to the area, and he served as CEO and president. He was able to turn around the finances and made it a huge success. The attention he received led him to get back into politics. In 2002 he ran for governor of Massachusetts, and though considered an outsider, he won and served for the next four years.
He made his first run for the presidency in 2008 but lost the nomination to John McCain. He then ran again in 2012 against Barack Obama and lost the election. After that, he stayed out of the spotlight for a while and returned to Utah. In 2014, he re-emerged to offer support and do fundraising, and in 2018 ran for and won his seat as a Utah Senator.
At his official website, he says, he wants to “bring Utah’s values to Washington… reverence for freedom, respect for others, and the importance of service, civility, and frugality.” He identifies the following issues as key to his constituents:
- Budget and Debt
- Clean Air and Energy
- Foreign Policy
- Life, Family, Religion
- Opioid Crisis
- Public Lands
- Second Amendment
- Trade and Tariffs
ProPublica tracks politicians on how they vote, the most common subjects of bills they sponsor and even what issues are the most common in their press releases. They have identified that Senator Romney focuses on the following legislative items:
- Native Americans
- Economics and Public Finance
His press releases concentrate on unusual topics, including:
- The Colorado River
- Navajo Nation
- Huawei Technologies
He is unique among many politicians tracked by ProPublica in that his press releases have very little connection to his policies. That makes it essential to look a lot harder at what he has done since winning the seat in the Senate.
Senator Romney’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Romney is assigned to the following committees and subcommittees:
- Committee on Foreign Relations
- Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation
- Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy
- Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism (Chairman)
- Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
- Subcommittee on Children and Families
- Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety
- Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security
- Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
- Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management
- Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
These are aligned somewhat with his stated goals and priorities. To determine just whose interests he focuses on, though, we’ll need to see who might be creating pressures. This means it is time to look at his campaign supporters to find out.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Romney Campaign Efforts
In 2018, Senator Romney’s campaign raised $5,504,544.67 and spent $5,246,723.55, leaving a quarter of a million in cash on hand. His support came from an array of industries, and we’ll look at those contributors in three distinct groupings:
- The industries in which the Senator was a “favorite,” or top recipient in the last campaign cycle (2018)
- The industries that contributed the most substantial amount of financial support
- Individual organizations that donated the most
According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Romney was not an industry favorite in any segment. He did, however, receive strong support from other industries, and the 20 sectors that gave the most, overall, in 2018 were (in ranking order):
- Securities & Investment
- Real Estate
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Oil & Gas
- Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing
- Business Services
- Non-Profit Institutions
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Health Professionals
- Commercial Banks
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes
- Electronics Manufacturing & Equipment
- Chemical & Related Manufacturing
- Miscellaneous Business
- Miscellaneous Services
Finally, there were the companies and other groups that gave, individually. However, none of them donated directly to the campaign; instead, they worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions for the 2018 election, and were:
- Bain Capital – “A private investment firm based in Boston, Massachusetts. It specializes in private equity, venture capital, credit, public equity, impact investing, life sciences and real estate. Bain Capital invests across a range of industry sectors and geographic regions. As of 2018, the firm managed more than $105 billion of investor capital.”
- Gardner Co. – “Operates as a real estate management firm. The Company provides planning, financing, governmental relations, design, construction, and property management. Gardner Company offers its services to commercial, residential and retail clients.”
- Blackstone Group – “An American multinational private equity, alternative asset management, and financial services firm based in New York City. As the largest alternative investment firm in the world, Blackstone specializes in private equity, credit and hedge fund investment strategies….Blackstone’s private equity business has been one of the largest investors in leveraged buyouts in the last decade, while its real estate business has actively acquired commercial real estate. Since its inception, Blackstone has invested in such notable companies as Hilton Worldwide, Merlin Entertainments Group, Performance Food Group, EQ Office, Republic Services, AlliedBarton, United Biscuits, Freescale Semiconductor, Vivint, and Travelport.”
- AQR Capital Management– A global investment management firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut, United States. The firm, which was founded in 1998 by Cliff Asness, David Kabiller, John Liew and Robert Krail, offers a variety of quantitatively driven alternative and traditional investment vehicles to both institutional clients and financial advisors. The firm is primarily owned by its founders and principals. AQR has additional offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Bangalore, Hong Kong, London, Sydney, and Tokyo.”
- Sinclair Companies – “An American petroleum corporation, founded by Harry F. Sinclair on May 1, 1916, as the Sinclair Oil and Refining Corporation by combining the assets of 11 small petroleum companies.Originally a New York corporation, Sinclair Oil reincorporated in Wyoming in 1976.The corporation’s logo features the silhouette of a large green dinosaur. It is ranked on the list of largest privately-owned American corporations. It owns and operates refineries, gas stations, hotels, a ski resort, and a cattle ranch.”
- Credit Suisse Group– “A Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company founded and based in Switzerland. Headquartered in Zürich, it maintains offices in all major financial centers around the world and is one of the eight global “Bulge Bracket” banks providing services in investment banking, private banking, asset management, and shared services. Credit Suisse is known for its strict bank–client confidentiality and banking secrecy practices.”
- Summit Partners– “A Boston, Massachusetts-based private equity investment firm that invests in a broad range of companies headquartered in North America and Europe. The firm provides growth equity, venture capital and credit investments for growth, recapitalizations and management buyouts. The company was founded in 1984, and in addition to its Boston headquarters, has offices in Menlo Park, California; and London, England. The firm employs more than 85 investment professionals and more than 150 employees overall. Since inception, Summit Partners has raised more than $20 billion in capital through 18 equity and fixed income funds.”
- Vivint Inc– “An American private smart home services provider in the United States and Canada.”
- Goldman Sachs – “An American multinational investment bank and financial services company headquartered in New York City. It offers services in investment management, securities, asset management, prime brokerage, and securities underwriting. The bank is one of the largest investment banking enterprises in the world and is a primary dealer in the United States Treasury security market and more generally, a prominent market maker. The group also owns Goldman Sachs Bank USA, a direct bank.”
- Zions Bancorp– “A bank holding company headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah…it operates as a national bank doing business under eight local brands, rather than as a holding company”
With supporters from Massachusetts and Utah, Senator Romney has a balanced array of industries and backers. To determine if his policies are beneficial to anyone in particular, though, we need to evaluate some of the legislation he’s introduced in this Congress.
5 Legislative Items Senator Romney Has Sponsored During the 116th Congress – To Date
For the 116th Congress, to date, Senator Romney has 79 pieces of legislation; he sponsored only 15 thus far and co-sponsored the remaining 64. The Senator’s official Congressional page indicates that his emphasis in this Congress has been on economics and public finance, health, immigration, and Native Americans.
Introduced on April 15, this bipartisan legislation seeks to “settle a decades-long negotiation among the Navajo Nation, federal government and the State of Utah over water rights for Utah Navajos,” according to a press release from the senator’s office.
It would achieve such goals by using the following steps:
- “Settle all current and future claims by the Navajo Nation for water rights within Utah, thus precluding costly future litigation for all parties;
- Provide the Navajo Nation with the right to deplete 81,500 acre-feet of water per year from Utah’s Colorado River Basin apportionment;
- Authorize $210 million in funding for water infrastructure on Utah portion of Navajo Nation to access the water, which will help provide clean drinking water; and
- Require the State of Utah to contribute $8 million in funding towards the settlement, which has been approved.”
In speaking about it, Senator Romney said, “For many years there has been a great deal of conflict about who has the right to water that flows through Utah and the Navajo Nation as part of Utah. This conflict could have been resolved through a lengthy court process that would have cost millions of dollars and accomplished very little. Instead, we have come together to introduce legislation that will resolve this conflict by providing additional water for the Navajo Nation and for the people of Utah in a way that is good for everybody. At the same time it will provide needed infrastructure to the Navajo Nation for nearly half of the 5,000 citizens there that don’t have running water. I’m proud to be joined by Senators McSally and Sinema, and I hope the Senate will take this up and pass it without delay so that we can keep the longstanding promise by the federal government to the Navajo Nation in Utah.”
The bill has three cosponsors and was ordered to be reported without amendment favorably.
Introduced May 9, this legislation seeks to “bring transparency to drug pricing and help reduce out-of-pocket costs for consumers at the pharmacy. Specifically, the Prescription Drug Rebate Reform Act would require all patients’ coinsurance obligations be set as a percentage of net price, rather than list price, before or after a deductible is met,” according to a news release about it.
Explaining a need for the legislation, Senator Romney said, “Patients in Utah and across the country are strapped with skyrocketing prescription drug costs, while insurance companies and drug manufacturers benefit from a complex system of rebates that results in higher drug costs. By changing the rules of cost-sharing, our bill aims to bring transparency to the prescription drug pricing system and lower out-of-pocket costs for medication.”
One of the bill’s cosponsors made this a bit clearer by explaining that the “current system of government-sanctioned rebates for prescription drugs has distorted the drug pricing market. Drug prices—and out of pocket expenses paid by consumers—seem to continually be on the rise. What is not talked about enough, however, is the inherent conflict of interest arising from negotiated rebates that affect the actual cost of drugs, which are paid by drug makers to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) in exchange for preferred status on insurers’ health plan formularies. This creates a perverse incentive for drugmakers to continually increase drug list prices—at the expense of consumers. And even when drugs are covered by insurance—consumers with cost-sharing obligations are often required to pay 30 to 40 percent of high drug list prices out of their own pocket.”
This bill has two cosponsors and was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Introduced May 21, this bill has a goal of requiring “future disaster funding to fall within statutory budget limits,” as noted in a press release from Senator Romney.
If passed into law, this bill would:
- “Remove the disaster relief and wildfire suppression upward adjustments to discretionary spending caps;
- Raise the threshold to waive a point of order that an emergency designation is outside the budget caps from 60 votes to 67 votes;
- Require a GAO study to review the relationship between emergency, disaster, and wildfire spending, including recommendations to reform qualifications for emergency spending;
- Take effect during fiscal year 2020, allowing Congress sufficient time to implement changes.”
In arguing in favor of the bill, Senator Romney said, “It is long overdue for Congress to start planning ahead for natural disasters. By building disaster spending into the annual budget process, instead of busting our spending limits and adding to our national debt, our bill will both ensure that funding is available for disaster assistance and save taxpayers billions of dollars every year.”
One of the bill’s cosponsors also explained the need for the budgeting method by explaining, “In the private sector we budget for rainy days or offset unexpected expenditures with spending cuts and the same principles should apply to Congress. By incorporating disaster spending into the annual budget we can help Americans with disaster assistance without the process becoming a pathway for runaway spending on unrelated projects.”
With three cosponsors, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Budget.
Introduced by Senator Romney on June 12, this bill seeks to “make the E-Verify program permanent by removing the termination provision that has required Congress to repeatedly act to extend the program. Making the E-Verify program permanent is the first step in making the program mandatory nationwide. Without legislative action, E-Verify is currently set to expire on September 30, 2019.”
A one-page information sheet from Senator Romney’s office about the bill explains that, “E-Verify is a fast, reliable and electronic system, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, offering employers a tool to verify that prospective employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
E-Verify is currently mandatory for all federal government employees and certain federal contractors. Roughly half of the states require additional employers to use E-Verify. Still more employers use E-Verify voluntarily to confirm that their workforce is in compliance with immigration law. As of May 2019, there were 863,528 employers using E-Verify, representing approximately 14% of U.S. employers.
Congress originally created three pilot programs for employers to confirm employment eligibility in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996. Two of those programs no longer exist, but E-Verify has grown into a successful, necessary tool for employers across the country who want to verify their workers’ employment eligibility.
Congress has repeatedly extended the E-Verify program – often only one year at a time – since its original expiration date, but these extensions are often short-term in nature, and do not provide necessary certainty for employers that use this critical tool. It is time to update the law to make the program permanent.”
As noted, it expires in September, and speaking of it to Congress, Senator Romney said, “Last month, a record number of 144,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended at the southern border, marking the highest monthly amount in more than thirteen years. Congress needs to act now to address our illegal immigration crisis by closing legal loopholes and removing the magnets—like illegal employment—that drive illegal immigration. My home state of Utah has already taken a step to reduce illegal employment by requiring employers to use E-Verify. I urge my colleagues to take action on this important legislation to make E-Verify permanent, and continue working on long term fixes to secure our border, update our asylum and trafficking laws, and institute mandatory E-Verify nationwide.”
The bill had three Republican cosponsors and was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Introduced July 15, this bill has two Republican cosponsors and is meant to “ensure that Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is not removed from the Commerce Department’s Entity List of sanctioned companies until after the Secretary of Commerce certifies that the company no longer poses a national security threat,” according to a press release from Senator Romney’s office.
The release offers background into the development of the bill and the reasoning behind it, saying:
- “The Huawei Prohibition Act of 2019 ensures that the Secretary of Commerce may not remove Huawei Technologies from the Entity List maintained by the Bureau of Industry and Security until the Secretary certifies to Congress that:
- Neither Huawei nor any senior officers of Huawei have engaged in actions in violations of sanctions imposed by the U.S. or the United Nations in the 5-year period preceding the certification;
- Huawei has not engaged in theft of U.S. intellectual property in that 5-year period;
- Huawei does not pose an ongoing threat to U.S. telecommunications systems or critical infrastructure;
- Huawei does not pose a threat to critical infrastructure of allies of the U.S.”
A joint letter had been sent to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to include a similar provision in the final FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
In it, the senators sponsoring this bill said, “We applaud your leadership in moving the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act through the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Passing this bill into law will be essential to supporting our servicemen and women, strengthening the military, and defending the United States. As part of this effort, we strongly urge you to ensure that any final agreement protects the future of America’s 5G network by placing additional restrictions on U.S. companies conducting business with Huawei.
Specifically, as the bill goes to conference, we urge you to support the House provision prohibiting the Secretary of Commerce from removing Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. From the entities list without certifying that Huawei is not violating sanctions, stealing our intellectual property, or posing a threat to our telecommunications systems or critical infrastructure.”
And when speaking of the need for the legislation, Senator Romney offered the following comment: “We must make a concerted effort to confront the threat China poses to U.S. national security, intellectual property, and technology. As Congress continues to take steps toward protecting our national security against the threat China poses, it is vital that Huawei does not have access to our critical telecommunications infrastructure. Our bill will prohibit U.S.-based companies from doing business with Huawei until they no longer pose a national security threat.”
Senator Marco Rubio, one of the cosponsors, also added that including “Huawei to the Commerce Department’s banned Entity List was one of the most important moves by the Trump Administration in America’s long-term strategic competition with the totalitarian Chinese government and Communist Party.
Congress must protect that action and this important legislation does just that. Huawei, a malign Chinese state-directed telecommunications company that seeks to dominate the future of 5G networks, is an instrument of national power used by the regime in Beijing to undermine U.S. companies and other international competitors, engage in espionage on foreign countries, and steal intellectual property and trade secrets.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
It is obvious that Senator Romney is not acting in the behest of any large-scale backers. His wide-ranging legislation might even be said to be a bit provocative to some industries and mega-wealthy donors. He seeks to address long-standing issues, such as his bill designed to work cooperatively with the Navajo people to ensure their water rights, and blocking a firm like Huawei from doing business within the U.S. until it is proven a non-threat to the country is a clear indicator of his priorities.