ST. PETERSBURG, FL--While Hurricane Isaac slammed other parts of the Gulf Coast, the weather at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina was just fine. That meant this morning's donor-maintenance event for Mitt Romney's $1 million-plus bundlers, on board a 150-foot yacht called the Cracker Bay, could go forward as planned.
As ABC News wasfirst to report, the vessel, owned by developer Gary Morse, flew the flag of the Cayman Islands -- a well-known tax haven -- as it welcomed guests aboard. Morse, who helped develop The Villages mega-retirement community, has given more than $1.8 million in political contributions over the years, including $450,000 to pro-Romney super PACRestore Our Future. Morse was previously a bundler for George W. Bush (in 2000 and 2004) as well as John McCain and Romney in 2008. The Villages is also a fantastic source of cash for candidates -- mostly conservative.
The Villages corporation, employees of the company, and The Villages PAC, have combined to give $1,039,722 so far this election cycle, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. Of that, $511,000 went to Republican candidates and $528,000 went to super PACs, including Restore Our Future.
The GOP presidential candidate hasn't disclosed the names of his bundlers -- other than those of lobbyists, which is all the law requires. But most of the yacht party's attendees wore name tags around their necks as they departed the event around 11 a.m., andOpenSecrets Blog-- which was at the marina -- was able to identify some of them.
One was Ron Weiser, the campaign's national finance chairman and the former ambassador to Slovakia under President George W. Bush. Weiser, who's also active with theRepublican Jewish Coalition(RJC), has given $1.1 million over the years, Center for Responsive Politics data shows, and was abundler for John McCain's presidential campaignin 2008.
Longtime GOP moneyman Mel Sembler also made an appearance. Now 82, Sembler, a Floridian and shopping center developer, was a chairman of the Republican National Committee's Team 100 for George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign -- a group of fundraisers who delivered $100,000 or more to the party (a hefty amount at the time); he's played a major fundraising role for every Republican nominee since then. His rewards include ambassadorships to European posts under both Presidents Bush. Currently he's co-chair of Romney's Florida finance committee. Sembler wasa bundler for Romney's campaignin 2008.
As the Cracker Bay floated regally in deeper water at the end of the pier, in the foreground much smaller, more modest boats -- including one called Bag Lady -- bobbed in the choppy water. The invitees to the $1 million-plus event showed no confusion about which vessel they were headed for, though. A security detail and campaign staff hovered nearby, keeping a close eye on the bundlers and their families after they were deposited at the marina by several vans and SUVs. Sporting a skull-and-crossbones necklace (the theme here was nautical, after all) was Kit Moncrief, who, with her husband Charles (whobundled for George W. Bushin 2004), told ABC they'd committed to raising $1 million for Romney's campaign, saying they were doing it because they believed in Romney. An independent oil and gas producer, the Moncriefs have given $360,000 over the years, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.
Bob Pence, another real estate developer, also strolled off the boat. Pence, based in McLean, Va, has given $1.5 million in political contributions, Center for Responsive Politics data shows, including $350,000 to Restore Our Future. Wilbur Ross, a Palm Beach billionaire whose W.L. Ross and Co., a private equity firm, began investing in distressed banks after the onset of the financial crisis, was there as well. Center for Responsive Politics data shows Ross has given $470,000 in contributions in his time as a political donor.
Special guests included Scott Romney, the candidate's brother, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who talked to ABC at length as he departed. McDonnell said he'd prefer less secrecy in the system -- although he also would advocate lifting the caps entirely on campaign contributions.
"I'd like to see full disclosure, lots of sunshine and no limits," McDonnell said.