Image: Mitt Romney
Jason E. Miczek  /  AP
Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attends the York County Republican Party convention Saturday at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
updated 4/18/2007 2:00:30 PM ET 2007-04-18T18:00:30

An array of donors who never had given money in a federal election opened their wallets to Mitt Romney this year, drawn to him through his networks in the business world and the Mormon church.

Utah, seldom a go-to state for politicians seeking money, was Romney’s second most generous state, reflecting the ties he has built there through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his time as president of the Salt Lake Olympics Organizing Committee.

That success helped vault Romney to the top of the money race among Republican presidential candidates with more than $20 million in the first quarter of this year.

An analysis of new campaign finance reports by The Associated Press shows that in some Utah ZIP codes, Romney, a Mormon and former governor of Massachusetts, raised nearly 10 times the amounts raised by President Bush in each of the past two presidential elections.

“I don’t part with my money lightly, but I felt it was money well spent,” said Ken Leister, a Mormon and a businessman from Sandy, Utah. Leister, a first time political donor, and his wife contributed $2,000 to the Romney camp this year.

Leister is hardly alone. The geographic region that contributed the most money to Romney was a ZIP code in Provo, Utah. He had 152 donors and collected $209,105 there in just three months. By comparison, Bush had 40 donors from that ZIP code who contributed $27,000 during the entire 1999-2000 cycle. Four years later, Bush attracted 31 donors from that ZIP code for a total of $25,505 in contributions.

“Different candidates with different messages attract different donors,” Romney finance director Spencer Zwick said. “Governor Romney is bringing new people to this process. ... When you start fundraising, you leverage the candidate’s personal relationships, family relationships and people who have an affinity toward the candidate.”

‘Those tentacles reach into Utah rather quickly’
In Utah, but also elsewhere, Romney has plenty of extended relationships to tap. His family has a long association with Brigham Young University in Provo, Romney’s alma mater. The university’s institute of public management is named after Romney’s father, George V. Romney. Romney also ran the Olympics organizing committee from 1999-2002 and is credited with using his business acumen to make the Salt Lake Winter Games a success.

He also has widespread business ties. He has an MBA and law degree from Harvard University and for more than 20 years he worked as a management consultant and later as a venture capitalist, ultimately becoming head of Bain Capital, a firm he helped found in Boston.

“When he starts reaching out to friends and acquaintances, those tentacles reach into Utah rather quickly,” said J. Quin Monson, a political scientist at Brigham Young. Utah contributed more money to Romney than did his home state of Massachusetts. Only California contributed more.

That Romney is finding new donors may boil down to a simple issue: Many Utahans simply never had been asked. In presidential elections, the state does not figure prominently as a major primary. In the general election, its status as a solid Republican Red State makes it an unnecessary stop for either party nominee.

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‘That certainly doesn’t happen at this campaign’
To be sure, Romney’s donor base includes established political givers, too, who are part of his business and church network. Among them is longtime family friend J.W. Marriott — employers of Marriott’s hotel empire donated more than $80,000 to Romney’s campaign.

Romney had more than 30,000 individual contributors, a number that despite his new donors is smaller than rival John McCain’s and of the leading Democratic candidates.

For Romney, the Mormon connection is certainly an asset. It has allowed him to expand his fundraising in other parts of the country too. One of his most generous ZIP codes in California was in Orange County, where there is a heavy concentration of Latter-day Saint church members.

But the church and Romney have had to be careful to keep a distance between the church and his political aspirations. Mormon leaders, for instance, cautioned Romney supporters not to seek support for Romney through BYU’s business alumni association because it is a church-affiliated school.

“In terms of an effort to identify Mormons and just Mormons, that certainly doesn’t happen at this campaign,” Zwick said.

Romney aides, academics who study donor behavior and even supporters such as Leister say the decision to give to Romney is more complex than simply banking on a Mormon connection. John Green, an expert on religious voters now with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said religion is part of a broader social relationship that candidates establish with donors.

‘I’m willing to invest in that’
At the same time, Green noted, Mormons belong to close knit congregations and “because of their distinctiveness and history, they have a sense of being excluded. It makes them prime targets for candidates.

“Here is a network of people that has not been tapped,” he said.

Similarly, a candidate such as Hillary Rodham Clinton will likely attract more women and Barack Obama will resonate with blacks and ethnic groups attracted to his life story.

“One of the things that has been historically true is that people who represent groups who have traditionally not seen their groups have candidates and nominees in the process get more excited and energized so that Senator Clinton is a female candidate, Mitt Romney is a Mormon candidate, Barack Obama is an African-American candidate,” Romney’s legal counsel, Benjamin Ginsburg, told a group of foreign reporters on Tuesday.

As far as Leister is concerned, Romney’s record as a successful entrepreneur, Olympic executive and governor of a largely Democratic state is one that the country needs to hear. And he’s willing to back that up with cash.

“I felt in the past that it was futile — what’s my little contribution have to do with it?” he said. “But with Mitt’s campaign, here’s a guy who at least has a shot to have his story heard and I’m willing to invest in that.

“The next home improvement project will have to wait a little bit.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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