After spending $102 million to help its party pick up six new gubernatorial seats, the Republican Governors Association finds that its annual meeting in San Diego is swarming with eager fundraisers and operatives — several of whom are already hustling to make a current or former GOP governor the party’s presidential nominee in 2012.
Among the 800-odd attendees at the RGA gathering this week are a host of veteran Washington money harvesters, lobbyists and power players who are working for — or sizing up — possible candidates. Like Ron Kaufman, an ex-RGA finance chair who works for the lobbying firm Dutko World Wide; he’s a key backer of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Also in attendance: Phil Musser, a former executive director of the RGA who heads the consulting firm New Frontier Strategy and is a key supporter of Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty; and Rick Shelby, the top lobbyist with the American Gas Association, who backed Romney in the 2008 primary season but is also a long time fan of Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, the RGA’s outgoing chairman and legendary fundraiser.
Another Washington attendee with plenty of friends at the gathering is long-time GOP fundraiser Fred Malek. At Barbour’s request, Malek did yeoman’s work corralling funds for the RGA’s “executive roundtable.” Since 2009, the roundtable has increased the number of individuals who donate at least $25,000 a year to the RGA from 15 to more than 500. Malek, a major fundraiser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is expected to be a prize asset for any candidate who can sign him up.
Both Romney and Pawlenty — neither of whom is officially running yet — have set up state leadership PACs that have been used this year to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlimited donations: these funds help them build potential campaign infrastructures and meet would-be supporters and donors prior to the formal announcement of a presidential candidacy. Barbour is considered a potential candidate too but has told would-be supporters to keep their powder dry and avoid signing on with anyone else just yet.
This week’s San Diego confab has also drawn Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both of whom are said to be seriously considering a run for the GOP nomination.
Charlie Black, a Washington lobbyist and veteran GOP operative in presidential campaigns — who is not at the meeting — said there will no doubt “be a lot of politicking and networking going on.” Black added that potential presidential candidates in San Diego “will be making friends who they might want to sign up later.”
The RGA is a “527” political organization that can accept unlimited corporate and individual donations. This year’s record fundraising haul included seven figure checks from billionaires such as Texas developer Bob Perry of Perry Homes ($6 million) and New York hedge fund mogul Paul Singer ($2.6 million).
The governors’ association has also had plenty of large trade group donors, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, plus corporate backers such as tobacco giant Altria Group and drug maker Eli Lilly and Company, all of which wrote checks of at least six figures this election cycle.