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Romney's outsider message at odds with D.C. connections


WASHINGTON, DC -- After his stinging losses to Rick Santorum on Tuesday, Mitt Romney has responded with this message: He’s the only Washington outsider left in the race and, thus, the only one capable of changing its culture.

And he has lumped his two main challengers – Santorum and Newt Gingrich – into the dreaded “Washington insider” category.

"I happen to believe that the American people recognize that if we’re going to see change in Washington, we’ve got to see some new faces," Romney said at a campaign event in Atlanta. "I haven’t spent any time working in Washington. I spent my life out in the real economy."

He added: "Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, they've spent a lot of time in Washington and during their years we spent more money than we were taking in … Actually, during Sen. Santorum's time in Washington, the government grew by 80 percent. And he voted to raise the debt ceiling five times. This may work in Washington, or it may have worked in the past, it will not work in the future."

But Romney's efforts to claim the Washington outsider mantle – including calling for a permanent ban on congressional earmarks this afternoon – are at odds with the deep Washington connections he and his campaign have built, winning the support of dozens of members of Congress, and millions of dollars in donations from the Washington power structure.

The fundraiser being hosted by Romney tonight at Washington’s J.W. Marriott hotel is just the latest example.

The former Massachusetts governor’s top policy advisers, along with a group of top congressional supporters, will brief donors on issues ranging from the economy to energy to foreign policy. Donors had to raise $10,000 for the campaign to score the best tickets to the event.

Romney, like other candidates, has turned to elite bundlers in order to help finance the heavy price tag of waging a run for the White House. While the Romney campaign is not obligated to disclose most of its bundlers (The Obama campaign voluntarily makes public its bundlers.), it is required by federal law to disclose which of those elite fundraisers are registered lobbyists.

Romney's fourteen lobbyist bundlers – including representatives from powerhouse D.C. lobbying firms Dutko Worldwide and Ogilvy Government Relations – raised $1.1 million for his campaign in the second half of 2011, according to recent Federal Election Commission filings. Ogilvy chief Wayne Berman, one of Romney's top bundlers, is also a co-chair of his national finance committee.

But Romney’s connection to elite D.C. operatives don’t end with fundraising.

Ron Kaufman, a former Bush Sr. advisers and now one of Romney's top advisers was a top lobbyist for Dutko for years, telling the Boston Globe he decertified as a lobbyist just last year.

Team Romney also includes other top-tier Washington power brokers like Charlie Black, a former top adviser to John McCain began advising Romney earlier this year, and Romney's chief counsel Ben Gingsberg, who held the same role in both Bush-Cheney campaigns, and has represented numerous house and senate campaigns and PACs.

Romney's commanding lead in congressional endorsements, which would otherwise be seen as a sign of strength, also undercuts his outsider message. The former Massachusetts governor's campaign rolled out two new endorsements from Michigan Reps. Fred Upton and Tim Walberg just yesterday, and the Romney campaign has more than double the congressional endorsementsof Paul, Santorum and Gingrich combined.