By JACK GILLUM and STEPHEN BRAUN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Major contributors to a key Republican political organization founded by political strategist Karl Rove have boosted their financial support for Mitt Romney, signaling that the GOP's big money may be starting to coalesce around Romney's candidacy, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of federal election data released Tuesday.
Wealthy GOP donors like Bob Perry, Philip H. Geier Jr. and Jerry Perenchio collectively provided much of the $6.4 million in contributions last month to the pro-Romney "super" political committee Restore Our Future, mostly from Perry's $3 million contribution, according to campaign records submitted to the Federal Election Commission.
The donors also are among the most generous contributors to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Rove, who was a top adviser to President George W. Bush. Crossroads is likely to become the pre-eminent GOP group airing negative advertisements against President Barack Obama this year.
The new campaign reports illustrate the financial advantage that Romney — the winner in Tuesday's Illinois primary — harnessed heading into Super Tuesday primary elections. Romney, ahead in the count of Republican delegates, was aided by more than $29 million worth of ads paid for by Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting his campaign.
That $29 million figure is higher than spending by any other Republican super PAC or campaign, including Romney's own campaign. Super PACs, like Romney's and Rove's groups, are not permitted under federal law to coordinate directly with campaigns — but the PACs often pay for media campaigns that allow the candidates to concentrate on state organizations and get-out-the vote efforts.
So far, other GOP candidates have struggled to keep up with the financial support that Romney's candidacy has enjoyed. Gingrich, the former House speaker who won the South Carolina and Georgia primaries, collected only $2.6 million last month while spending roughly $2.8 million during the same period, his campaign said. Much of his support has come in the form of ads from Winning Our Future, which received a $5 million infusion from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.
The Rick Santorum-supportive super PAC — the Red, White and Blue Fund — brought in $2.9 million last month, including $600,000 from longtime supporter and Wyoming businessman Foster Friess. Santorum's own campaign pulled in about $8.9 million in contributions during the same period when he saw a surge in support.
All told, the money flowing to Republican super PACs is expected to counterbalance cash flowing to Obama's campaign, which has raised more than $120 million in total contributions as of Feb. 29. The political committee supporting Obama, Priorities USA Action, collected $2 million last month.
Romney has lost several Southern primaries, but his campaign raised more than $11 million in February. Helping his campaign — albeit independently under federal law — Restore Our Future has spent millions on attack ads against rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Perry, 79, previously gave $1 million to the pro-Romney super PAC in addition to his $3 million last month. He also gave $2.5 million to Rove's group. He heads a major Houston-based homebuilding empire and has been a million-dollar player among GOP fundraisers since the late 1990s, working closely with candidates and causes tied to Rove. Perry was a big money contributor to Bush's campaigns for Texas governor and was a top bundler for his 2000 presidential race.
Geier, 77, a veteran advertising man, gave $100,000 to the pro-Romney group after previously donating $250,000 as well as giving $500,000 to Rove's group. He is chairman emeritus of the New York-headquartered Geier Group, a global media company. Geier was a campaign bundler for Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign and has given to the Republican National Committee, as well as to GOP leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Perenchio, 81, gave $500,000 and has donated $3 million to Rove's group since 2010. He is a former chairman for the Spanish-language Univision television network. He was a top bundler for McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Perenchio, who heads Chartwell Partners LLC, gave $10,000 last year to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $5,000 to the re-election campaign of House Speaker John Boehner.