GREENWICH —— It seemed that everyone at the party was a millionaire.
In one corner was NBA basketball star Grant Hill. In another was Linda McMahon, who spent $50 million of her own money in 2010 in a race for the U.S. Senate. Nearby was David Einhorn, who made headlines last year by offering $200 million to buy a stake in the New York Mets baseball team.
At the center of it all was the host, Leonard Tannenbaum, a Republican who gathered the group for his first political fundraiser. Tannenbaum is just entering the political arena, but he was guaranteed to make a splash by inviting movers-and-shakers — and some reporters — to his 10,000-square-foot, 10-bathroom Greenwich mansion, which is large enough to seat more than 50 people comfortably in a side living room.
Welcome to campaign fundraising in 2012.
Greenwich has always been a leader in political contributions, but the difference this year is the explosion of money that is showering down on candidates. A landmarkU.S. Supreme Courtruling spawned the creation of Super PACs that can accept unlimited contributions. Then there are federal political action committees — like Tannenbaum’s — that are designed to help those running for Congress. Money is also being raised for the Republican and Democratic national committees, as well as directly for specific candidates.
The winner in all of this, at least in Greenwich, is Republican Mitt Romney, who has received an estimated $8 million from Connecticut fundraisers in direct contributions in the current cycle. On top of that, some of the richest moguls in the nation are stepping forward with unlimited contributions that would have been unheard of only a few years ago.
Four Greenwich titans have contributed a combined $1.5 million to Restore our Future, a Super PAC supporting Romney in the battle against President Barack Obama. They can contribute even more in the coming months.
There’s $750,000 from Greenwich investor Chris Shumway, and $200,000 from hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, according to public records. Stephen Zide, an executive at the Bain Capital investment firm that Romney founded, contributed $500,000 in two installments. State Sen.L. Scott Frantz, arguably the state’s top Republican fundraiser, gave $100,000 to the Super PAC, and he raised an additional $1.5 million directly for Romney’s campaign in a single day, May 20, at a party that attracted 500 people to his waterfront home in Greenwich’s Riverside section.
The contribution by Tudor Jones is significant because he hosted a huge fundraiser for Obama during the 2008 election cycle. Only four years later, Jones is now one of the largest contributors to Obama’s rival.
“He’s come full circle: 180 degrees opposite,” Frantz said of Jones. “All of the hedge fund guys I know are squarely with Gov. Romney. Paul Tudor Jones is the poster boy for that movement.”
Jones, who rarely talks to the press, did not return a telephone call for this article.
Greenwich has become ground zero for Romney’s money efforts, based on fundraising statistics that are calculated by ZIP codes by the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. Among more than 40,000 ZIP codes nationwide, Greenwich has two of the top 10 codes for direct contributions to Romney in the entire nation. As such, Greenwich, with a population of 60,000, has raised more money per capita for Romney than any other community except Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Those figures do not include the $1.5 million that Romney collected last Sunday during a soiree at Frantz’s waterfront home.
Democrats concede that they cannot match Romney’s fundraising take in Connecticut, but they predict that Obama will win re-election in November. Both parties say the Democratic fundraising in Connecticut has been anemic when compared with the 2008 cycle, with big events in Greenwich by Tudor Jones and NBA basketball star Alan Houston on the same day.
“To be frank, I’d say that Greenwich is Romney country,” said Ned Lamont, a millionaire Democratic fundraiser who lost races for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010.
“Most of the Obama fundraising is taking place in New York and elsewhere,” Lamont said. “Democrats don’t feel all that comfortable with Super PACs and unlimited donations. It gives folks an extra reason to say no this time. I think Republicans are more comfortable with Super PACs. There’s an awful lot of folks that don’t want to donate to a Super PAC.”
Lamont acknowledged that the fundraising cause has not been helped by increased financial regulations that were pushed by then-U.S. Sen. Chris Doddand U.S. Rep. Barney Frank that have already been enacted.
“Hey, look, Dodd-Frank and a little more scrutiny of Wall Street has some of the folks around here more anxious,” said Lamont, a longtime Greenwich resident.
Regarding Romney, Lamont said, “To the rest of the state, he’s stiff, aloof and a little 1 percent. But here in Greenwich, he fits right in.”
Back at Tannenbaum’s fundraiser, the crowd also included Frantz and investor Mark Shenkman, whose $2.5 million gift allowed him to get his name on a football training center at the University of Connecticut.
The event was essentially a coming-out party for Tannenbaum, a 40-year-old moderate whose company loans money to small businesses. He has never run for public office. But in one night, Tannenbaum stepped into the spotlight with two sitting members of Congress from New Hampshire and Nebraska, as well as many of the Republicans seeking federal office in Connecticut. Besides McMahon, who is again running for U.S. Senate this year, the guest list included Simsbury business executive Lisa Wilson-Foley and real estate investor Mark Greenberg — two Republicans seeking the 5th District congressional seat — and U.S. Navy veteran Steve Obsitnik of Westport, the GOP-endorsed candidate in the 4th Congressional District.
Most fundraisers are closed to the press, but Tannenbaum opened the doors of his mansion, which has annual property taxes of more than $70,000.
Tannenbaum raised about $100,000 in a single evening in a gated community in Greenwich’s famed back country. The “meet the candidates” portion of the event for the first hour cost $5,000 per person, while those attending the rest of the event – including dinner – paid $1,000.
“It’s not about the money,” Tannenbaum said at the event. “When people invest in a PAC, they’re buying into your vision. They’re committing themselves. When you’re investing in a stock, you watch the stock. When you invest in a company, you want to know how that company does. When you buy a piece of art, you watch that.”
He added: “This event, yes, it’s a very expensive event. It has a lot of high-profile people. It has a lot of wealthy people. It has some billionaires. This is the beginning. First, you have to start here.”
After the kickoff event, Tannenbaum said, he eventually wants to raise grass-roots money over the Internet.
“My goal is, believe it or not, to collect thousands of $20 bills,” Tannenbaum said. “The idea is to get out to the people, the small business owners, and get them to buy into the vision of the PAC. … Our goal in the PAC is to raise 10,000 $20 contributions to our website.”
While all of the candidates and the two political speakers were Republicans, Tannenbaum said that he and his PAC are centrist. He noted that the co-host, David Einhorn, is a Democrat.
“I’m very down the middle,” Tannenbaum said. “This is not about Republican and Democrat. People are angry with Republican and Democrat, right and left. This is about doing what is right for the country, regardless of partisanship.”
In that vein, one of the attendees was Hill, the NBA basketball star who said he has “done some business” with Tannenbaum. Hill, whose mother went to college with Hillary Rodham Clinton, describes himself as “a card-carrying Democrat” who supported Obama in 2008.
He noted that Republicans and Democrats need to work together to foster the idea of “keeping America competitive,” which is the name of Tannenbaum’s PAC.
“That hasn’t been the case here as of late,” said Hill, the son of Yale and NFL football star Calvin Hill. “It’s about teamwork. It’s about solving problems.”
McMahon and Tannenbaum are on the same page regarding small businesses and pealing back regulations.
“Len is a fellow who is doing what we need to do,” said McMahon, who is facing former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays in an Aug. 14 Republican primary. “He is trying to help small businesses. He is trying to help them get access to capital. He wants to help them grow. He and I share very similar thoughts relative to government over-regulation and what’s happening with small businesses.”
While attending the fundraiser, McMahon said that her campaign does not accept PAC money.
“I just wanted to make sure that it would never be perceived that there was an influence relative to my votes or decisions through PACs,” McMahon said in an interview. “I thought it was cleaner not to take PAC money.”
The state Democrats are still getting started in their response to the Republicans by creating a new Super PAC called Progress Connecticut. The PAC has been created, but no money has been raised yet, said Matthew J. Hennessy, a consultant to the PAC. That will change, however, as the campaign heats up over the next five months, he said.
Both the polls and the fundraising fortunes can change quickly — particularly with millions that can be placed into a Super PAC overnight.
“A lot of the real high-end Wall Street guys took a flyer on Obama last time,” Lamont said. “Obama won Greenwich four years ago, and that has not happened since LBJ. That will not happen this time. … We’ve lost a fair number of Wall Street guys, but [Obama] will win Connecticut, and he’ll be the next president.”