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‘Super PACs’ for Romney get big bucks from beach

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of June 28, 2012)

For Mitt Romney, the Promised Land is not Utah’s Great Salt Lake valley but the Vero Beach barrier island where, when it comes to campaign contributions, A1A seems to be paved in gold.

A recent Federal Election Commission tally shows 32963 residents to be the top contributors to Romney’s campaign among  U.S. zip codes, adding up to about a half a million dollars in contributions during the first four months of 2012. 

But that hefty sum barely scratches the surface of the actual cash going to the support of Romney from the barrier island because it doesn’t include  Super PAC (political action committee) money, which takes a meandering route to help candidates and doesn’t require public disclosure – even though there is no limit on the size of contributions.

With help from the Center for Responsive Politics, a bipartisan nonprofit in the nation’s capital, Vero Beach 32963 tracked some of the big SuperPAC money and committee and candidate contributions coming from the barrier island.

 To do so required looking at Super PAC tax forms, which are public record, and  cross-checking the listed contributions on them and other committee and candidate contributions with barrier island residents’ names.

The result:  six heavy hitters from the barrier island have given about $750,000 to conservative organizations in the past year – money which is now being used to help Romney. 

A pie graph on the center’s web site ( shows Romney’s portion from the barrier island as an expansive dome of blue sky over a tiny furrow, which represents Barak Obama’s portion of beachside contributions. 

Ninety- eight percent of the 32963 political dollars are going to Romney, while only two percent are going to Obama.  

Keep in mind that the Republican donation amounts  attributed to the six big donors  may well be low  because there may be other PAC contributions 32963 couldn’t find. Also, there may be other heavy hitters 32963 hasn’t yet identified, or island winter residents using a northern address for their giving.

Nevertheless, here’s the 32963 Top Six list of big money contributors for the barrier island (six were picked because they were so far ahead of the seventh place donor):

- #6 is Windsor resident Richard DeVos, Jr., 56, who has contributed about $69,000 to Republican causes in the past year. DeVos is the son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr. and chairman of the Orlando Magic basketball team.  In  2006 DeVos ran for governor of Michigan and lost.

DeVos, who lives part of the year in Michigan, did not return calls.

- #5 is Orchid island resident John Brehmer, who, according to the tally, has given about $71,000 to Super PACS, committees and supportive causes to benefit  Romney in the past year.

“Your number is not far off,” said a surprised Brehmer when reached by phone for comment a few days ago.

Brehmer, who is retired, said his decision to donate the money was based on his strong  belief  in the deregulation, small government philosophy of the late Milton Friedman, who was economic advisor to Ronald Reagan.

“I got an MBA at the University of Chicago and studied with Friedman years ago,” said Brehmer. “I’m an ardent believer in his philosophy, which Romney supports.”

About $25,000 of the money donated by Brehmer went to three conservative Super PACs:  the Club for Growth Action, the Madison Project and the Prosperity PAC, all of which  share a desire to cut taxes and  limit government regulation – except for a government ban on abortion.

- Ranked #4 are John’s Island residents Warren and Virginia Schwerin, who gave about $85,000 in the past year to help Romney and conservative causes.  Of that amount, $50,000 went to two conservative Super PACS:  Restore Our Future, founded by Romney aides,  and American Crossroads, founded by former members of the George W.  Bush Cabinet.  

Warren Schwerin is the retired CEO of Related Properties and a partner in Oak Point Development.

The Schwerins, who spend part of the year in New York’s Suffolk County, didn’t return 32963’s calls.

- In the #3 ranking are John’s Island residents Herbert and Anne Gullquist, who gave $130,000 to Republican causes in the past year.  The great bulk of it went to the Republican National Committee. Herbert Gullquist, 75, is co-chairman of Lazard LTD, a New York investment firm, and president of Gull Investment in Vero Beach.
The Gullquists, who live part of the year in New Canaan, Conn., did not return calls.  

- In the #2 spot is Windsor resident Lewis Eisenberg, 70, head of the New York Port Authority in 2001 when the World Trade Center came down.  The authority managed the twin towers.

Eisenberg  gave about $138,000 to conservative PACs,  committees and Republican causes in the past year.  A former partner in Goldman Sachs in the late 1970s, Eisenberg founded Granite Capital  International,  a private equity firm, He  is currently an investment advisor with Kohlberg, Kraus and Roberts.  The bulk of Eisenberg’s donations went to Republican committees.

Eisenberg, who lives part of the year in New York, did not return calls.

- The #1 heavy hitter on the barrier island, according to 32963 research and the Center for Responsive Politics,  is John Childs, a Windsor resident,  who contributed over $257,000 to Republican Super PACs, committees and causes in the past year to help put a Republican in the White House.

Childs is the owner of J.W. Childs Associates, a private equity firm in Boston known for buyouts and takeovers, which has over $3 billion in assets. 

He did not return calls.

Horace Lindsay, chairman of the Indian River County Democratic Executive Committee, acknowledged the fund-raising advantage Republicans have in this wealthy and conservative community.

“With the money on the barrier island going to conservative Super PACs, the Republicans definitely have an advantage over us,” said Lindsay. “Elections are no longer about one person, one vote; they’re about the ability to pay big money to influence tens of thousands of people.”

Obama was reluctant to go that route, said Lindsay, but has recently accepted Super PAC support from other parts of the country.

“He had to,” said Lindsay. “Otherwise, he’d get wiped out by the kind of huge donations you see on the barrier island.”  

“It’s an interesting time,” said Tom Lockwood, chairman of the Indian River County Republican Party. “Big finances are changing politics, dramatically.”