Mystery donation to PAC for Romney draws scrutiny

Company existed for only 4 months before dissolving

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / August 5, 2011

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WASHINGTON - A $1 million contribution from an obscure firm to a political action committee run by former aides of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney prompted calls for an inquiry and concern among campaign finance specialists that the donor may be trying to circumvent federal law.

W Spann LLC gave the donation just 44 days after it was formed and 75 days before it was dissolved. It was unclear in what kind of business, if any, the firm had been involved. Corporate registration records do not list the names of the company’s owners.

“If there’s evidence that the intent was to route the money through a shell solely to hide the identity of the contributor, that’s illegal,’’ said Paul S. Ryan, associate legal counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Records show W Spann gave the money April 28 to Restore Our Future, a committee formed by Romney’s former political, legal, financial, and media advisers.

A spokeswoman for the committee, Brittany Gross, declined yesterday to reveal the identities of anyone associated with W Spann, saying the law only requires disclosure of the company’s name.

“Restore Our Future has fully complied with all FEC regulations, including publicly disclosing donors on our July 31 report,’’ Gross said in a statement.

Restore Our Future is a Super PAC, meaning it can take unlimited amounts from corporations, unions, and individuals and spend unlimited amounts to influence campaigns. It must spend that money independently, meaning the group cannot coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. And it must disclose the names of its donors.

Ryan said it is an example of the new types of groups that have cropped up since a Supreme Court decision last year allowed corporations and labor groups to spend unlimited amounts influencing campaigns.

But he said it remains illegal to set up a different name - whether that of a company or individual - to shield one’s true identity when funneling money to a political candidate or committee.

Ryan said the W Spann arrangement would be legal if the company did legitimate business, made $1 million during the four months it was open, and its board members then decided to give that money to Restore Our Future.

“I’m having a hard time envisioning that,’’ he said.

NBC News, which first reported the contribution, said records show the company was formed by Boston lawyer Cameron Casey of Ropes & Gray. Casey incorporated it in Delaware and registered it with an address on Madison Avenue in New York. NBC also reported that Bain Capital, a Ropes & Gray client that was cofounded by Romney, has offices at the same address.

Yesterday, Casey’s assistant referred questions to the firm’s New York office, which declined to comment, saying, “The firm does not discuss confidential client matters.’’

Casey, who likely was acting as an agent for a client, specializes in estate planning and advising “high-net-worth individuals and families,’’ according to her biography on the firm’s website.

A spokesman for Bain Capital said the company “has many employees who actively participate in civic affairs, and they individually support candidates from both parties.

“The firm takes no position on any candidate, and the entity in question is not affiliated with Bain Capital or any of our employees,’’ the spokesman said.

A Romney campaign aide declined to comment, saying, “Restore Our Future is an independent group and all questions about their contributions and events should be brought to them.’’

The committee was created in October last year “to support Romney in his effort to become America’s next president,’’ according to a press release. The founders all worked for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign: Carl Forti was national political director, Charlie Spies was chief financial officer and counsel, and Larry McCarthy was a member of the media team.

The Federal Election Commission, which has civil jurisdiction over violations of the campaign finance law, declined to say yesterday whether it is investigating the mysterious contribution.

The Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit group advocating against corporate involvement in elections, sent a letter yesterday to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, asking him to investigate W Spann and Restore Our Future.

“Unless there’s an investigation that exposes any wrongdoing, we will see this replicated by donor after donor who want to hide their identities and who may have no business influencing American politics,’’ David Donnelly, national campaign director for the group, said in an interview.

Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, could not be reached for comment last night.

Donovan Slack can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @DonovanSlack.