Politics

Video of Boca Raton fundraiser leaves Mitt Romney having to explain his views on the “47 percent” who don’t pay taxes

The last time a gathering at Marc Leder’s home made news the headline read “Nude Frolic in Tycoon’s Pool.”

This time, it wasn’t naked revelers — but a Republican candidate who was left exposed.

A newly released undercover video shot last May during a high-dollar Mitt Romney fundraiser at Leder’s Boca Raton mansion has left the candidate’s presidential campaign in damage control over his plain-spoken comments about poor people who will vote for Obama because they want handouts.

Romney has said he’d make the U.S. more respected in the Middle East, but he suggested in private that he would “kick the ball down the field” rather than try to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Romney, whose campaign has suffered through a few recent missteps, acknowledged in a hastily called late-evening news conference Monday night that some of his “off the cuff” comments in the room of fundraisers “weren’t elegantly stated.”

But he stood by what he said as conservatives rallied to his side and called for more. “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” he said in the video.

He described them as people who pay no federal income tax and who are “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Romney’s comments were highlighted Monday by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, which obtained the undercover video and on Tuesday released the full recording of Romney’s address at Leder’s home.

The comments about poverty at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser were roundly bashed by liberals and President Barack Obama’s campaign. Even the president chimed in.

“My expectation is that if you want to be president, you have to work for everyone, not just for some,” Obama said in a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday.

Obama’s backers noted that Romney draws significant support from conservative, Southern states where a higher percentage of the population tends to receive some type of government assistance when compared with liberal Northern states or California. Also, nearly half of the tax-paying population pays no income tax because of decades of Republican-inspired policies that benefit the wealthy as well as the elderly, soldiers and the very poor.

Romney on Tuesday reiterated the sentiment that these voters are beyond his reach — “I’m not going to get them” — in an interview with Neil Cavuto, a conservative Fox News personality.

Coupled with Romney’s comments, the venue — a fundraiser at a venture capitalist’s home — underscored the issues of wealth and poverty playing out in the campaign.

Leder’s $3 million home is nestled in the heart of South Florida’s high-finance community, Boca Raton. About three-dozen guests sitting in gilt chairs had a chance to air their concerns and voice their support as Romney laid out his vision.

“It looks like an expensive Olive Garden in there,” said one donor who attended but declined to be identified.

Leder, a longtime friend and business associate of Romney’s, didn’t want to speak to reporters. He issued a written statement instead. “I hosted a fundraiser for an old friend in May,” he said. “I believe all Americans should have the opportunity to succeed, to improve their lives, and to build even better lives for their children. I have supported people from both political parties who share this view and make it a priority, even though their ideas on how to achieve it may differ.”

Leder is a founder of the Sun Capital Partners private-equity firm, which he helped establish after meeting in 1995 with Romney’s firm, Bain Capital. Romney was an early investor in Sun Capital. Since January 2010, Leder and partner Roger Krouse have each given about $177,500 each to eight separate political groups and committees supporting Romney’s presidential bid.

Leder hasn’t attracted so much media attention at one of his homes since the summer of 2011 when he rented a $400,000-a-month beachfront home in Bridgehampton, N.Y., where the recently divorced bachelor’s parties became the stuff of legend.

The New York Post reported that, at his last party, “guests cavorted nude in the pool and performed sex acts, scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms and men twirled lit torches to a booming techno beat.”

Leder’s fundraiser for the straight-laced Romney had none of this air of wildness. Guests politely ate as Romney mused about foreign policy, the state of the campaign, and Obama.

The press was not allowed in, but one of the caterers — Romney supporters suspect it was the bartender — shot secret video that fell into Mother Jones’ hands via the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, whom Romney drew attention to as an example of a failed leader.

Romney also suggested he’d be hands-off regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway.”

But it was Romney’s comments about the culture of poor “victims” that hit a nerve with the left. And the right.

“The only problem I see here is people being shocked that half of the country pays no income taxes,” said Sid Dinerstein, Palm Beach County’s Republican chairman, who attended a Romney fundraiser that preceded Leder’s by a few hours in May.

“This is the conversation we need to be having about how half of this country has an entitlement mindset,” Dinerstein said.

Romney’s raw comments were easily compared to the 2008 comments by then-Sen. Barack Obama, who privately told donors that bitter small-town Pennsylvanians and Midwesterners “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, anti-immigrant sentiments.”

Like Romney now, Obama was secretly recorded in the company of millionaire power brokers whose personal bank accounts don’t resemble that of the average American. Unlike Romney’s comments, though, Obama’s were brief.

Also, Romney’s comments come just days after his unpopular decision to bash Obama over the deadly violence against U.S. diplomats and property in the Middle East. A Pew Research Poll showed that those who followed the case disapproved of Romney’s management of the matter but approved of how Obama handled it.

Romney at one point seemed of two minds with his donors. While serving up rhetorical red meat about tax-takers vs. taxpayers, he also noted that he had to adjust the way he spoke publicly to the undecided middle of the American electorate, which likes Obama personally.

“You see, you and I, we spend our days with Republicans,” he said. “We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don’t agree with us. And so the things that animate us, are not the things that animate them.”

Romney also looked forward to the debates and said that, while his performance and his ads will matter, he doesn’t have total control over his destiny — especially when it comes to the news media. “In terms of what gets through to the American consciousness,” he said, “I have very little influence on that at this stage as to what they write about.”

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