That mysterious surge of donations outpaced all contributions to Romney during the previous year from the wealthy Palm Beach area, when the campaign collected $270,000 over nine months. Romney got $21,000 more from residents there in February. But voters wouldn't know about the event at Ross's home because Romney's campaign doesn't disclose all its bundlers and the sums they collect.
Campaign fundraising has been a bright spot for Romney during the bruising GOP primary. Romney has built a potent organization that has pulled in nearly $75 million. Two-thirds of that total — nearly $49 million — came from people who gave the $2,500 maximum, which can be indicative of contributions pulled together by bundlers. Just $6.5 million, or 9 percent, came from supporters who gave $200 or less. The emphasis on top-tier donations indicates an active network of fundraisers who are targeting high-end contributors.
"Romney is less focused on small donors than any other candidate at this stage of the campaign in recent memory," said Michael Malbin, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. "And that is parallel to a larger problem: He has not yet excited the passions of the kind of people who give small contributions or volunteer their time."
One prominent Romney supporter, Lewis M. Eisenberg, said that even with the rise of super PACs like Restore Our Future, which helped Romney pay for important advertising, the campaign is still dependent as ever on "hard money" that pays for salaries, state organizing, television ads, direct mailings and other expenses.
"It's fair to say we still haven't seen the clear impact of all the changes," said Eisenberg, co-chairman for Romney's campaign in Florida and John McCain's finance chairman in 2008. "What we do know is you still need the hard dollars that go to the campaign — to deliver the direct message of the candidate and the campaign."
Eisenberg, a senior advisor to the Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts private equity fund, would not say whether he was a bundler. But his activities bear the hallmarks of a major fundraiser.
A former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and a $500,000-level bundler for McCain in 2008, Eisenberg was a lead fundraiser for Romney events in New York in October and December, and he hosted a reception at a New York law firm in late September. He also gave $25,000 to the super PAC supporting Romney, adding to a $100,000 donation to the group in February from KKR founder Henry Kravis. Donors listing KKR as their place of business gave $36,000 to Romney's campaign in 2011.
Like Eisenberg, many of Romney's apparent bundlers are listed on invitations for Romney fundraising events. Others have been identified as state campaign finance leaders. A campaign's national finance team often includes supporters who overlap with its bundlers, and during the 2008 race the Romney campaign divulged its full list of national finance chairmen in July 2007 — fully six months before the GOP primaries.
This year, the Romney campaign has still not disclosed a comprehensive list of its national finance team.
One major Romney donor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss fundraising practices behind the scenes, acknowledged that Romney financiers who serve as event hosts or are listed as members of campaign finance committees are likely Romney's bundlers and generally asked to raise a certain amount.
Some likely Romney bundlers are the same mega-donors who gave million-dollar contributions to Restore Our Future, the independently run super PAC supporting Romney. Seven of the 15 millionaires and billionaires who gave $1 million to the super PAC have either hosted Romney fundraising events or joined his state finance committees. They include Tiger Management head Julian Robertson, hedge fund founders Paul Singer and John Paulson, and businessmen William Koch, Francis Rooney and Frank VanderSloot.