WASHINGTON – Most people think that high-dollar donors contribute to a candidate with the hopes of hearing the politician’s views in a small, intimate setting. But it turns out, as the now infamous video from a Mitt Romney fundraiser makes clear, they don’t want to hear from the candidate so much as they want to give the candidate their own advice: what television shows he should do, which voters he should appeal to, how he should prepare for debates, or how he can best utilize his wife on the campaign trail.
“My question is, why don’t you stick up for yourself?” one donor asks.
“Why isn’t someone sayin’, ‘Stop makin’ pennies. Round it to the nearest nickel?’ ” one donor demands. “That’s an easy thing, you know, compared to Iran.”
When Romney notes that he’s “not terribly well known,” a female donor chimes in, “You’re known as a rich boy!”
The secretly-taped fundraising video – which emerged in full on Tuesday – has caused the Republican presidential candidate all types of problems for the comments he made that evening in May. But overlooked in the storm of controversy is that the fundraising video provides a rare peek into the types of events that Romney has been holding almost non-stop since April – a schedule that has him interacting with high-dollar donors far more than he does with average voters.
And while it’s been a common criticism that Romney isn’t talking specifics or in-depth policy, the video demonstrates that he actually is – on what he thinks about Middle East peace, and what he makes of income inequality – but it’s just not often in public forums.
One Romney donor, asked about the uproar over the video, shrugged. These are things he’d heard many times, he said, at many Romney fundraisers.
In exchange for tens of thousands of dollars, the candidate is expected to offer some special behind-the-scenes detail. So during the Boca Raton, Fla., fundraiser, Romney tells his donors why his wife isn’t on the campaign trail more often (out of concern people will tire of her), and is seen trying to describe in raw percentage terms how he might win the White House.
In the only other instance where Romney was captured speaking candidly to donors – when reporters overheard a Palm Beach, Fla., fundraiser in April – Romney also offered unvarnished views and elaborated on policy positions to donors that he doesn’t allow average voters to hear.
In that case, Romney said he would eliminate mortgage tax deductions for those who own second homes, he would consider downsizing the Department of Education, and might eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But material from only two such fundraisers has been aired publicly – and Romney has been raising money this way for months, sometimes doing three fundraisers a day.
“I’m gonna turn to you for counsel, advice or questions,” Romney said at the outset on the Boca video, as he stood at the head table, donors ate, and servers in white gloves and tuxedoes poured glasses of wine. “Policy questions. Wanna talk about tax policy? Or-- or political questions. How I win? Please.”
Toward the end, a female donor implores Romney to do more television – particularly the daytime shows where females will be watching. Romney promptly noted that he had twice been on “The View.”
“ ‘The View’ is high risk because, of the five women on it only one is conservative, and four are sharp tongued and not conservative—Whoopi Goldberg in particular,” he said. “Although last time I was on the show she said, you know what, I could vote for you.”
Romney also noted he had done several late-night programs but had avoided “Saturday Night Live” (saying the show “has the potential of looking slapstick and not presidential”).
“I’ve been on Letterman a couple of times. I’ve been on Leno more than a couple of times and now Letterman hates me because I’ve been on Leno more than him,” he said. “They’re very jealous of one another, as you know”
Here are a few other tidbits from the video:
ROMNEY ON ELIZABETH WARREN:
When Romney laments that his father was born in Mexico to American parents – “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this” – a female donor speaks up.
“You can pull an Elizabeth Warren,” she said.
Romney explains to the audience, “Elizabeth Warren, she’s the woman who’s running for US Senate in Massachusetts who said that she’s Cherokee.”
“It turns out that at most she’s 1/32nd Cherokee,” Romney added. “And even that can’t be proven. So-- at any event, I mean I could put down my dad was born in Mexico and leave it at that.”
ROMNEY ON HIS ADVISERS:
There has been a lot of criticism of Romney’s team of advisers – or, as the Wall Street Journal dismissively called them, “the Boston Boys.”
But at the fundraiser, not long after he had secured the nomination, Romney hails the group that helped get him there – and their worldly experience.
“I can tell you I have a very good team of extraordinarily experienced, highly successful—consultants. A couple of people in particular who’ve done races around the world. I didn’t realize it. These guys from the U.S., the-- the Karl Rove equivalents, they do races all over the world. In Armenia. In Africa. In Israel.”
He noted in particular work they had done for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“They do these races and they see which ads work and which processes work best,” Romney said. “We have ideas about what we do over the course of the campaign. I’d tell it to you, but I’d have to, you know, shoot ya.”
It’s unclear exactly who Romney is referring to.
Arthur Finkelstein, a Republican operative form Ipswich, Mass., was involved in Netanyahu’s race in 1996. While he has ties to some Romney advisers – and conducted a poll for Romney in 2002 before he entered his gubernatorial race – he doesn’t appear to have any current consulting role with Romney.
MASSACHUSETTS TIES IN THE AUDIENCE:
Early on, a female donor raises her voice. “Governor Romney,” she says. “We are former Bostonians. And we will talk about how we know you.”
“Uh-oh,” Romney says.
Several minutes later, another female donor speaks up. She said that she had called George H.W. Bush “years and years ago” when, she said, “he had helped me in my campaign in Massachusetts when I ran for Senate.” She said she had told Bush “there’s a guy named Clinton who’s going to beat him for the following reasons.” Bush simply laughed.
She was warning Romney not to fall into the same trap, telling him women, Hispanics, and college students don’t want to vote for him and he had work to do.
But who is this former Massachusetts Senate candidate among the $50,000 donors to Romney?
Lucile Hicks, a Republican, ran successfully for state Senate in Massachusetts in 1990 and at the time received a note of support from President Bush to mail to voters. According to Federal Election Commission records contributions, she gave Romney $750 last year and $3,500 in July. Her husband has contributed $2,500. Hicks did not return a message from the Globe to determine if she was at the Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton.