WASHINGTON – A mysterious firm that gave $400,000 to help elect Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has direct ties to a married couple who already are among Romney's top Florida fundraisers, The Associated Press has learned.
The $400,000 contribution from SeaSpray Partners LLC to a "super" political committee, Restore Our Future, is at the center of a new flare-up over loosened federal rules that effectively permit anonymous and unlimited contributions to influence the presidential election.
The contribution came from Gerald and Darlene Jordan, according to Susan Lynch, an executive at Boston-based Hellman Jordan Management. Hellman Jordan's website describes itself as a "specialty equity investment" firm and Gerald Jordan as a senior executive. The Jordans are top Romney fundraisers in South Florida and hosted Romney at their Palm Beach home last week.
Lynch told the AP that the couple had received the $400,000 as part of an unspecified investment disbursement, which the Jordans asked to be sent directly to Restore Our Future. She said the Jordans received the money as members of SeaSpray Partners LLC and directed it to the super PAC instead of sending it to their normal checking account.
"We were happy to do that," Lynch said.
Lynch declined to provide more details on the nature of the disbursement. She said that SeaSpray sent updated information to the super PAC, which originally told the Federal Election Commission that the money came from a different firm with an identical name.
Restore Our Future acknowledged the Jordans' involvement Monday after the AP confirmed the couple's role and raised questions about their involvement with the group. Spokeswoman Brittany Gross attributed the mistake to a clerical error and said the super PAC would file an updated report with the Federal Election Commission.
"During our internal review, we received a request to change the name on the contribution from SeaSpray Partners to individual contributions of $200,000 each from Gerald and Darlene Jordan," she said.
But earlier, Restore Our Future said it would not identify the donors and would only update the firm's address, which it said met federal disclosure rules. That set the stage for a detective-worthy whodunit among news organizations and watchdog groups that follow the campaign closely.
The revelations about the $400,000 donation — and the super PAC's reluctance to identify such wealthy supporters — illustrate the loosened rules overseeing the federal campaign finance system in the wake of a series of court rulings in recent years.
Those rulings, including the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United case, have turned back laws that were intended to shine a light on who was paying for elections — and put limits on how much they can donate — in the wake of the Watergate fundraising scandal of the 1970s. In the current campaign, most donors identify themselves, but in some cases corporate donors are able to disguise their names using limited liability partnerships.
"We've disclosed all the information that the FEC required," said Carl Forti, the super PAC's founder and chief strategist, said last week after his group first posted the mystery $400,000 donation. "I can't tell you anything more about the company."
Lynch confirmed to the AP on Monday that Gerald and Darlene Jordan each earned a $200,000 disbursement and directed Hellman Jordan to send the money to the super PAC.
The Jordans hosted a $50,000-per-couple fundraising event for Romney at their Florida home last week. Darlene Jordan was listed in an invitation as a host of an Orlando fundraiser for Romney in August 2011.
The two have also offered major financial support to Romney and the Republican Party. Gerald Jordan gave $2,500 to Romney's presidential campaign in June and April 2011, and Darlene Jordan contributed the maximum $30,800 to the Republican National Committee in December. Gerald Jordan also contributed more than $40,000 to a fundraising account for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible running mate of Romney's.
Forti would not explain how the money had been erroneously attributed to a South Florida corporation established by a former stock trader, Scott DeSano. Forti said Monday that DeSano — in the past he has been disciplined by the Securities and Exchange Commission — was not behind the $400,000 donation and that his Palm Beach firm, also called Seaspray, was mistakenly listed instead of the SeaSpray firm linked to the Jordans.
"Citizens United has not only allowed unlimited corporate spending, but has also opened many loopholes in disclosure laws," said Tara Malloy, associate legal counsel for the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center. "We see this when corporations give to transparent vehicles like a federal political committee. And this case underscores how porous the disclosure laws are."
Last summer, Restore Our Future refused to identify the source of its first $1 million contribution. Controversy flared until the secretive donor, a retired executive from Romney's old firm, Bain Capital, stepped forward and acknowledged the donation.
In its latest financial reports listing more than $8.6 million donations in March, the super PAC supporting Romney listed large donations, including the $400,000 donation and a separate $1 million gift from another South Florida company. The group did not identify who was behind the contributions.
"We don't comment on our donors," Forti said.
The $1 million gift from Huron Carbon LLC was determined to come from the West Palm Beach headquarters of Oxbow Carbon LLC, a fossil-fuel processor and mining firm headed by William Koch, who had already given $1 million to the pro-Romney group. The donor behind a $250,000 donation from a Montana firm, Fair Oaks Finance LLC, still has not been identified.
The origin of the $400,000 was clouded in mystery until Monday. The firm listed in the financial report was traced to a Palm Beach address and a corporation set up last year by DeSano. DeSano did not return repeated calls from the AP but told USA Today that he didn't give the money.
DeSano agreed to pay the U.S. government more than $200,000 in December 2008 after he settled with the SEC in connection with a federal investigation into allegations that Fidelity Investments traders improperly accepted gifts paid for by brokers courting their business. DeSano, who had worked as a senior vice president for Fidelity in Boston, did not admit to or deny the charges, which focused on what the SEC charged was his flawed supervision of other Fidelity staffers.
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