Thursday, July 19, 2012
London Fund-Raisers Put Romney in a Scandal’s Glare
By MICHAEL BARBARO and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
They were envisioned as low-key, across-the-pond fund-raisers that would allow Mitt Romney to extract campaign cash from expatriates in London by night as he played statesman by day.
But the two receptions that Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, will hold for donors next week during a swing through Europe are turning into an ill-timed public relations headache for him.
Several of the events’ hosts are top executives at banks tied to the interest rate-fixing scandal that is now engulfing London’s financial and political world, linking Mr. Romney, however superficially, to a messy moment in the continuing debate over Wall Street excesses.
The British and American authorities are examining the role of more than 10 banks in the possible manipulation of key interest rates that affected how consumers and companies borrowed money around the world.
The former chief executive and a top lobbyist for Barclays, the bank at the center of the scandal, helped organize a Romney fund-raiser. The former chief executive, Robert E. Diamond Jr., has since withdrawn his name as the event’s co-host. The bank’s lobbyist, Patrick J. Durkin, remains a co-chairman: he has bundled $1.1 million for Mr. Romney from friends and business associates, more than any other lobbyist, according to federal records.
In late June, Barclays agreed to pay $450 million to resolve accusations that it had tried to manipulate rates to benefit its bottom line. Shortly after, Mr. Diamond resigned from his position.
In a sign of just how politicized the scandal has become, 11 members of Parliament recently signed a resolution, naming Mr. Romney, that called for Barclays executives to “cease fund-raising for political candidates” and focus on rebuilding consumer confidence in the banking system.
Soliciting donations abroad, as exotic as it sounds, is by no means new. Election laws permit candidates to accept contributions from citizens living outside the United States, and John McCain and Barack Obama did so.
Barclays was the ninth-biggest source of contributions to Mr. Romney’s campaign either directly or through his joint fund-raising effort with the Republican National Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with employees contributing $234,650 through the end of May.
But Democrats may be loath to draw attention to Mr. Romney’s donations from big banks like Barclays. Employees of the bank have contributed $34,800 to Mr. Obama and his joint effort with the Democratic National Committee. (Mr. Obama does not allow registered lobbyists to bundle for his campaign.)
This month, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. attended a fund-raiser in Park City, Utah, co-hosted by Mark Gilbert, a top executive at Barclays, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mr. Obama’s re-election bid.
Representatives of the Romney and Obama campaigns declined to comment.
Besides Barclays, executives at several banks under investigation, including HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, are co-chairmen for the Romney fund-raisers in London.
Mr. Romney appeared to take all the normal precautions for his events in London: an invitation to one of the fund-raisers reminds guests that they “must provide copy of U.S. Passport.”
Still, any ties to the firms under investigation could detract from a trip intended to highlight Mr. Romney’s history with the Olympics. Mr. Romney, who ran the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, plans to attend the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Games next Friday.
What is more, it may give ammunition to his left-wing critics, since Mr. Romney has railed against Wall Street regulation, like the Dodd-Frank Act.
Despite the controversy, the co-host of one fund-raiser, Karl Dasher, said there was “strong excitement” for Romney among expatriates in London.
Republican fund-raisers described the London receptions as a case of awkward timing, noting that scrutiny of presidential donors always intensifies when a company is under investigation.
“You want to make sure that you don’t wind up with egg on your face because you got some money from some guy who pulled a stunt. But you can’t screen everybody that writes your check,” said Alfred Hoffman Jr., a Florida developer who is a top Republican fund-raiser but is not raising money for the Romney campaign. “You do the best you can — you make sure that they’re an American citizen.”
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