Romney leads local presidential donations

NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Mitt Romney is beating all comers in campaign fund raising among donors in northern Michigan, bringing in more than a third of the region's contributions and perhaps benefiting from his past largesse to GOP organizations.

By the end of the third quarter, the Republican presidential candidate received more than $42,000 of the roughly $108,000 contributed so far in northern lower Michigan and the eastern third of the Upper Peninsula, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

His performance in northern Michigan roughly matches the percentage he holds in the rest of the state. Across Michigan, he has collected $1.9 million, out of about $5 million contributed to all candidates, according to published reports.

These figures don't surprise Sarah Pompei, a Romney spokesperson.

"Gov. Romney has more grassroots support than any other Republican candidate running in the state," she said.

She credits Romney's status as a Michigan native, noting that he grew up in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. It's no small help that his father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, and that his mother Lenore Romney ran for the Senate in 1970.

Mitt Romney started his spade work early in Michigan, testing the waters with an appearance in Oakland County back in June 2005. Currently, he can count on some high profile support in the region: U.S. Rep. David Camp, R-4th District, is co-chair of his Michigan campaign and heads up the Romney efforts within the U.S. House of Representatives.

So far, he has about 30 contributors in the Grand Traverse area, most of them donating $50 to $500, and about 20 more in Charlevoix, Harbor Springs and nearby areas, averaging $1,000 apiece. Seven of them donated more than $2,000.

By comparison, Rudolph Giuliani had just nine contributors in northwestern and north central lower Michigan at last count.

The $42,000 that Romney accumulated in the western and eastern halves of northern lower Michigan was more money than his three closest rivals raised collectively. John McCain raised about $18,000. Barack Obama about $9,600, and John Edwards more than $9,000.

There were also three Romney donations of more than $2,000 apiece from donors in Suttons Bay.

Romney's figures could rise after the campaign stop that the Grand Traverse Republican Party sponsored for him at the Hagerty Center on Oct. 13. About 250 people attended a breakfast meeting, said Sage Eastman, Camp's communications director. "It was a huge turnout."

The grassroots effort will pick up speed as the primary approaches, with more events, yard signs and phone calls on behalf of the candidate, he said. "A huge number of folks signed up for the campaign early on," Eastman said.

Rich Robinson, executive director of Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a watchdog group, attributes some of Romney's success to the financial support that he gave Michigan Republicans back in 2006.

"I think Romney is really getting the native son benefit," he said. "But the back story is that his leadership PAC (Political Action Committee) was biggest in the state of Michigan in the last election. He was spreading the money around, and I think that this was cultivating the kind of support that he needs in the state now."

Politicians use leadership PACs to raise money that can be used to support other candidates. Romney has helped raise about $2.9 million nationally for the fund, known as the Commonwealth PAC. It then funneled much of that money into Michigan and other key battleground states, according to political analysts and campaign databases.

Some of it was given to Republican office-holders, candidates and county GOP committees during Michigan's 2006 campaign, evidently building up goodwill for 2008.

Commonwealth gave $10,000 to both the House and Senate Republican campaign committees in Lansing in October of 2006, just before the general election.

Two northwest lower Michigan candidates also received contributions. U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (2nd District), received $2,000 from Commonwealth, and Camp $1,250, according to state campaign finance records. The PAC also gave $1,250 to State Senator Jason Allen's campaign.

The Grand Traverse County Republican Committee also received $2,000 in two payments in July and October of 2006, and Leelanau County's GOP committee received $500 that October. Commonwealth also gave Howard Walker's committee $500 during the Traverse City candidate's run for the Michigan House, campaign finance databases indicate.

But in Traverse City itself, a $300 gift to the Ron Paul campaign represented the biggest donation in the entire presidential campaign so far. The total from zip code 49684 for all candidates was just $1,930, largely in sums of a few hundred dollars or less.

Small donations predominated throughout northern Michigan. In that respect, the region may differ from the rest of the United States, Robinson said. Across the country, most money comes from big donations.

"The Campaign Finance Institute did a breakdown of how much the candidates were getting in amounts of a thousand and up and it turns out that Romney and Giuliani are getting about 80 percent of their money in donations of $1,000 or more." BN