Since first setting eyes on the White House, Mitt Romney and his backers have spent over $200 million -- including $44.6 million of his fortune -- on a seven-year quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now, with victories that re-establish him as the front-runner heading into Super Tuesday's primaries, the former private-equity chief can credit much of his advantage to an expansive fundraising apparatus that has far outdistanced those of his rivals.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, also can thank former business partners and friends on and around Wall Street who were among his earliest and biggest donors.
A look back shows the depth of Romney's investment in trying to win the nation's highest office, how his supporters circumvented federal campaign laws with huge, back-channel donations years before he declared his candidacy, and to whom he might owe favors if he wins.
In this, his second run for the presidency, Romney's campaign has spent $54 million through Jan. 31, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. It has been shadowed by a pro-Romney "super" political action committee that has spent at least $32 million, including $12 million on broadcast ads in February, mainly to pummel GOP challenger Rick Santorum.
Beginning in 2004, a number of other state and federal pro-Romney committees sprang up to spend millions on staff salaries and on political consultants, while creating a system that spread cash to politicians whose endorsements he coveted.
"When you look at his operation, you end up with two words: Romney, Inc.," said Fred Wertheimer, the dean of Washington campaign finance watchdogs as president of the nonpartisan group Democracy 21. '"It's as if Mitt Romney is integrating his business experience in the investment banking world into the political world and creating multiple ways in which to advance his presidency.
"This is a highly sophisticated, far-reaching money operation designed to curry favor with politicians and local and state political organizations, and it's financed by donors who are bound to have great influence with Mitt Romney if he's elected president."
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney's campaign, rejected such assertions and said that the state committees "were completely separate entities having nothing to do with this campaign."
"We follow the letter and the spirit of the law," she said.
She declined to comment on details of Romney's fundraising, but said that "more than 125,000 Americans" have contributed to his campaign because they support his desire to make America "prosperous and secure."
Small donors, however, have played a marginal role in backing Romney. Through Jan. 31, his campaign collected more than 79 percent of its cash from those who gave $1,000 or more.
Romney's fundraising operation has included:
-- The committees formed in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states beginning in 2004, skirting the $2,500 federal campaign donation limit long before court rulings unleashed a torrent of six- and seven-figure presidential campaign checks this year. The state committees raised more than $8 million and bankrolled pollsters, staffers and political in Massachusetts, where Romney's campaign would later be based. They also doled out more than $1 million to local and state politicians - largesse that wasn't always rewarded.
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