Romney's NYC "bundlers" primed to grab donations

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at an election night rally in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, April 24, 2012.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Mitt Romney greets supporters
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

(CBS News) -- When Andy Busser began to encourage friends and colleagues to donate to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign back in October, it was often a tough sell.

A private equity investor in New York City, Busser had a ready-made network of people in finance, accounting, law and other high-paying fields to solicit in his role as a Romney fundraising "bundler." His task: collect donations and present them en masse to the campaign.

Some of those whom Busser pursued had supported President Obama four years ago, while others were holding back to see how the Republican race shook out before opening their checkbooks. And many were initially reluctant to pony up for an uber-wealthy candidate who seemed to lack a certain spark.

But now that Romney has become the presumptive Republican nominee, Busser's task has become much easier.

"The enthusiasm for him has grown a lot in getting people to give," Busser said. "My general pitch is that here's a guy who's incredibly competent, and we really need that because there's not a lot of rational debate and rational analysis going on in Washington these days."

It's an understated description that sounds nothing like the "severely conservative" label that Romney applied to himself in the heat of the Republican primary fight just two months ago.

Rather than targeting a GOP base that's hungry for red meat, the bundler's soft sell with Romney is well-suited to the northeastern professionals who make up the deep end of the candidate's nationwide fundraising pool.

Busser says that so far he has gotten about 15 people (including two former Obama donors) to contribute -- enough to make him one of 78 "co-hosts" listed on the invitation to a major fundraising event scheduled in midtown Manhattan on Thursday morning.

In order to achieve the co-host label, according to multiple sources, bundlers must accumulate donations totaling at least $10,000. The even more esteemed title of "co-chair," of which there are 39 listed for Thursday's event, requires a total haul of $25,000.

With his clean sweep of primary victories on Tuesday and the impending departure of Newt Gingrich from the race, Romney will be freed temporarily from the day-to-day campaigning he has done for almost a year as he moves toward the 1,144 delegates required to officially secure the Republican nomination.

Money is now the name of the game, and Romney on Wednesday embarked on a fundraising blitz designed to put a dent in the more than 10-to-1 cash-on-hand deficit he faces against Obama, according to the latest FEC report at the end of March.

With more than four months to go before the conventions mark the start of the campaign's final phase, Romney's focus for the foreseeable future will be on raising money -- which he has proven successful at in each of his political campaigns.

Though the former Massachusetts governor has been viewed as lacking an innate ability to connect with voters on the stump, he is by all accounts a natural on the fundraising circuit, possessing a skill set that could make him a better candidate in a general election setting than he ever was in the grind-it-out Republican primaries.

On Wednesday, Romney began a multi-event tour of the tri-state area surrounding Manhattan -- the fundraising Mecca of Republican politics and a place where the private equity titan turned politician is in his element.

Interviews with several of the GOP's top bundlers in the New York City area reveal an enthusiasm for Romney that is likely to pay off in spades as he works to replenish the coffers that were depleted by his extended primary fight.

For many politicians, fundraising is a chore. But for Romney, it is something he pursues with a sincere cheerfulness that matches his tirelessness.

"He's not an arrogant guy, which is the case for a lot of private equity people ... He's a very approachable guy," Busser said. "He's polite to people personally in a lot of situations where other people wouldn't be."

Another top Romney bundler from New York echoed his appreciation for Romney's ability to make the "big ask" in a way that is not off-putting.

"He's a remarkably polite, respectful person," the bundler said, noting that those qualities endeared him to a community of people who are used to dealing with more abrasive personalities.

A crowd of over 1,000 is expected at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square on Thursday morning for the main event in Romney's most recent swing through the Big Apple. The breakfast fundraiser for the Romney Victory Fund -- a joint effort of the campaign and the Republican National Committee -- will be held in the hotel's West Side Ballroom, which has a capacity of 2,400.

The event will likely be among the largest of Romney's political career and is one of at least a half-dozen fundraisers he'll attend in the area this week, including several high-dollar gatherings that will be held at private homes and be geared toward donors able to write checks of up to $75,000.

While Obama's campaign has disclosed the identities of its bundlers, the Romney operation has opted to reveal only those who are registered lobbyists, as required by federal law.

The vast majority of Romney bundlers whose identities could be ascertained from fundraiser invitations were reluctant to comment publicly when reached by RCP. But the ones who agreed to speak for attribution were, perhaps unsurprisingly, even more focused than rank-and-file voters on the economic issues that have dominated the campaign.

Among them was John Catsimatidis, a high-level "co-host" at the Thursday morning event, who is mulling a run for New York City mayor.

"We're going to decide this November: What is America?" Catsimatidis, a supermarket and oil magnate whom lists as having a net worth of approximately $2 billion, told RCP. "Is America going to be a capitalist country the way it's always been or is America going to be a European socialist type country?"

Another Romney bundler with a political profile of his own is Scott Frantz, a businessman turned Connecticut state senator from the well-heeled town of Greenwich.

Frantz said that his top selling point to the friends and colleagues he has solicited donations from is that Romney can "restore confidence" to a business environment that lacks it.

"I can tell you the excitement level amongst Republicans in the tri-state area -- particularly southwestern Connecticut [and] New York City -- is at heights I haven't seen since Reagan and 2000," he said. "They've done an exceptionally good job in getting as much in the way of contributions from everyone who would do so ordinarily, and the charge right now is to expand that base to people who wouldn't ordinarily think about giving to a political campaign."

Though the Romney campaign is reportedly aiming for $600 million to remain competitive with an Obama war chest that is expected to top its $750 million haul from four years ago, it is impossible to say how much money each side will ultimately rake in, especially given the presence of super PACs and 501(c)4 groups that can accept unlimited donations and will surely bring in enormous amounts for each side.

What's clear from the core members of his donor base, however, is that Romney is well-suited to making an effective pitch, and remain within reach of the Obama fundraising machine's totals.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.