By: Kenneth P. Vogel
April 11, 2007 05:25 PM EST
A new congressional campaign group could piggyback on Mitt Romney's
apparent success in rounding up political cash from first-time Mormon
Neither the website nor filing papers for the Eagle Political Action
Committee, or Eagle PAC, mentions Mormons. But those familiar with the
PAC say one of the reasons Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), a Mormon,
created it this year was to solicit money from Mormons for
distribution to Republican congressional candidates.
That has never been tried before, said Cannon's congressional chief of
staff, Joe Hunter, who registered the group as a leadership PAC with
the Federal Election Commission on his own time.
The PAC will solicit funds from donors of all faiths who support small
government, individual freedom and national security, Hunter stressed,
adding that the concept predates Romney's bid for the Republican
presidential nomination. But Hunter acknowledged the group could
benefit from what campaign finance analysts say was the unprecedented
ability of Romney, a Mormon who was the governor of Massachusetts, to
tap Mormons on his way to raising a GOP-field-leading $21 million in
the first three months of the year.
"The two were not connected, but I think the result is probably
mutually beneficial," Hunter said. Though campaigns consider Mormons
frequent -- and largely Republican -- voters and volunteers, Hunter
conceded Mormons, who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, are not known as big donors.
"I don't think it's going to be that difficult to motivate people,
because in recent elections many people of the LDS faith have been
very active politically," Hunter said. "And Mitt Romney's candidacy is
probably breaking some new ground" in terms of political giving.
Romney's inaugural federal fundraising report is due next week. But it
won't provide quantifiable metrics about how many Mormons contributed,
or how much they gave, since campaigns are required to report only the
names, occupations, employers and addresses of donors who gave more
The goal of Eagle PAC, which will start fundraising later this year,
is to spread Mormon political contributions across campaigns, said a
Mormon church member familiar with the PAC's creation.
"If it only goes to other Mormon candidates, that doesn't accomplish
that much," said the church member, who did not want to be seen as
speaking for the PAC. "Any community that wants its voice to be heard,
unless you're being heard by people who are not members of your
community, you're not being effective."
Hunter said Eagle PAC will support viable Mormon candidates for
Congress. But he and the church member said the PAC probably could get
a better return by funding non-Mormon candidates who are ideologically
synched with Mormon values.
"You can't expect to have 40 members of Congress or 20 members of
Congress if you have 2 percent of the population," the church member
There are at least 15 Mormons in Congress, 12 Republicans and three
Democrats, according to Americans for Religious Liberty.
The Mormon church member said, "You support people who believe in the
same values you do, or at the very least, if you can't find any who
are true believers, you support people who pander to your values."
Ideally, the member said, Mormons who write their first checks to
Romney will continue giving and some will give enough to be invited to
events for high-dollar donors. "This is not just about giving to a
politician. It's about networking with other people who gave," the
There are plenty of wealthy Mormons with a history of political
contributions, including brothers J. Willard and Richard Marriott of
the hotel family, who last year gave more than $380,000 to Romney's
But most Mormons don't make enough to give the maximum $4,600 donation
-- technically $2,300 for the primary election and $2,300 for the
general -- to federal campaigns, said J. Quin Monson, an assistant
political science professor at Brigham Young University in Provo,
"The average Mormon is stretched pretty thin," said Monson, a Mormon
who co-authored a chapter on Mormon participation in U.S. politics for
a book set to be published this year by Georgetown University Press.
Citing large families and the 10 percent tithe Mormons are expected to
give their church, Monson said, "It's not the first thing on their
list to donate politically. It's never really been something that's
been pushed by the church either. The church has made a big deal of
pushing people to vote and to run for office but not" to give
Eagle PAC has realistic expectations for Mormon giving, Hunter said.
"The idea is not to garner massive individual contributions, it's
massive numbers of contributions," he said. "You're not talking about
$2,000 givers, you're talking about $200 givers."
And the PAC's board seems well positioned to tap into any surge of
Mormon contributors prompted by Romney's run.
Bart Marcois, a former energy official in the first Bush
administration, organized the Republican National Committee's LDS
outreach program before the 2004 election, the first such concerted
Steve Turley is a city councilman in Provo, Utah.
Ron Kaufman, the only non-Mormon on the board, is an executive at the
influential Washington lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide. A Republican
National committeeman from Massachusetts, he was an adviser to the
elder Bush and a key early backer of Romney.
Bill Simmons, a Mormon church member from Utah, was a top
congressional aide before becoming a Dutko executive. He helped Romney
network with influential Mormons in Washington.
The church member familiar with Eagle PAC's creation said Simmons was
tapped for the board because of his connections in heavily Mormon
Utah. And Monson said Marcois would be "a big help" for the PAC
because of his connections.
Mormons form a tight-knit community, grounded in overlapping networks
that run through the church, social groups and church-owned Brigham
But the church, driven partly by its tax-exempt status, strictly
prohibits the use of its membership lists, property and other
resources for political purposes.
Monson said the church has become particularly sensitive about the
policy because Romney's candidacy. And Kim Farah, a church spokeswoman
acknowledged his campaign is clearly increasing the church's profile
and "raising questions about Mormonism.''
"Whether this will have a positive or negative impact on the church
remains to be seen,'' she said. "It is our hope that, as people learn
more about our faith, negative stereotypes will be disspelled, and
there will be a greater understanding of who we really are as
Cannon recognizes and respects the church's line on politicking, and
believes there are ways to engage Mormon donors without crossing it,
Hunter said. Cannon might try to recruit other Mormon congressmen to
sign onto Eagle PAC, Hunter said. "At the end of the day, it is his
leadership PAC, but certainly there have been and will be discussions
with other LDS members."
A former finance chairman for the Utah Republican Party, Cannon has
dabbled with innovative fundraising techniques, but he is not known as
a particularly prolific fundraiser.
In the run-up to the 2000 election, he created a leadership PAC to
help defend the House members who managed the impeachment trial of
President Bill Clinton. The House Managers PAC contributed about
$77,000 in that election. But it now owes more than $80,000, according
to its most recent FEC filing.
Cannon also had a 527 group, Western Leadership Fund, established in
2001 to contribute to state and local candidates. The group, which
hasn't reported any activity to the IRS in more than three years, was
originally steered by David Safavian, Cannon's former chief of staff.
Safavian left Cannon's office for a job in the Bush administration and
was sentenced to 18 months in prison for covering up his dealings with
disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Carrie Sheffield contributed to this report.