By Philip Rucker
The Washington Post
NEW YORK — They may not get any face time with Mitt Romney, who has been sequestered with advisers preparing for his debate Tuesday with President Barack Obama, but the Republican nominee’s biggest benefactors this week will be lavished with company that’s almost as good.
Romney’s major donors are descending on New York starting Monday for a three-day retreat at the Waldorf-Astoria, where they will mingle with Romney’s running mate, eat lunch with his wife, talk shop with his strategists, dine with his most colorful surrogate and talk jobs with entrepreneurs who are inspirations for his stump speech.
This, three weeks out from Election Day, is their reward for infusing a record-breaking amount of money into Romney’s operation. Many of the donors gathering here long ago contributed the $50,000 required to gain entrance to the private “Fall Retreat” and have raised tens of thousands of dollars more from their friends.
The donors will be feted at a gala reception and dinner Monday night at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, where a handful of Republican stars are expected to speak, including vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, the festivities continue with a series of briefing sessions at the Waldorf-Astoria, a historic luxury hotel in Midtown Manhattan. And Tuesday evening, the donors will head to the Roseland Ballroom for a private debate watch party with comedian Dennis Miller.
This week’s retreat is only the latest example of Romney rewarding his donors, whom he has relentlessly cultivated for donations. The campaign’s top bundlers — the “Founding Partners” and members of the exclusive “Stripes” group — were invited to a June retreat with Romney, his family and his strategists at an exclusive resort in Park City, Utah.
Virtually every bold-faced name in Republican politics showed up in Park City, from former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker to former Florida governor Jeb Bush to strategist Karl Rove. A slew of vice presidential hopefuls, including Ryan, also attended.
The next month, Romney invited dozens of top donors to stops on his foreign tour, including his visit to Jerusalem, where donors dined with him at the luxurious King David Hotel and accompanied the candidate to the Western Wall and watched him leave a prayer note.
Romney scrapped plans to visit this week’s New York retreat, instead staying at home in Belmont, Mass., where he is hunkered down with advisers preparing for Tuesday night’s town hall debate. But his wife, Ann, and their eldest son, Tagg, plan to attend a donor luncheon here Tuesday at the Waldorf-Astoria.
In a letter to invited donors, obtained by The Washington Post, the campaign wrote that the retreat “promises to be a wonderful and informational experience for attendees. You will have an opportunity to learn detailed information about Governor Romney’s path to victory in November and have an opportunity to network with fellow supporters.”
Donors will attend three panels. At the first session, titled “Campaign and Strategy Briefing,” donors will hear from Beth Myers and Ed Gillespie, senior advisers to the campaign; Neil Newhouse, the campaign’s pollster and senior strategist; Rich Beeson, the campaign’s national political director overseeing the ground game; as well as Priebus.
Later, donors will attend a session titled, “Issues Facing America: Jobs,” featuring five big names in corporate America: Carlos Gutierrez, a former secretary of commerce; Harold Hamm, an oil magnate and energy adviser to Romney; Jimmy John Liautaud, founder and chairman of the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain; Scott McNealy, co-founder and chairman of Sun Microsystems; and Charles Schwab, CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation.
Romney looks to Hamm and Liautaud as inspirational examples of America’s entrepreneurial spirit, often telling their stories in his stump speeches. Liautaud first met Romney about five years ago through Tagg Romney, who is a good friend of Liautaud’s business partner. He has attended past Romney fundraisers, including an August luncheon in Chicago.
The third session here, titled “Make The Difference,” will be led by Spencer Zwick, the Romney campaign’s national finance chairman. Zwick and other Romney finance aides hope to encourage the donors to make a final push to raise more money in the final weeks before the election.
In the letter to donors, the Romney campaign stressed the confidentiality of the retreat — urging caution, perhaps after Romney’s remarks about “the 47 percent” to donors at a private fundraiser in May were surreptitiously recorded and released last month.
“All events are closed to the public and you should treat all statements, whether made during formal presentation or informal conversations, as off the record,” the letter states. “Please be mindful of the security and confidentiality of your meeting notes and materials. Please do not post updates or information about the meeting on blogs, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, or in traditional media.”