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“Uncle Will At Your Service”: Marriott Is Mainstay For The Romney campaign

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney incessantly talks about his “five points” to get the country moving again, but the only points anyone traveling with the GOP nominee is interested in are Marriott points.

The candidate has made the hotel chain the semi-official innkeeper of his presidential campaign. From Iowa to Ohio to New York City, Romney has wheeled his carry-on bag into Marriott lobbies and passed the omnipresent portrait of J. Willard Marriott and his son, John Willard “Bill” Marriott Jr. — a Romney contemporary, fellow Mormon scion and, along with his brother, a donor of more than $1 million to the Republican’s effort.

The Romneys and Marriotts go way back. J. Willard was a dear friend of Mitt’s father, George, with whom he sold tamales in Washington during the Depression Era. Forty years later, J. Willard Marriott asked his namesake Willard Mitt Romney, a young consultant with Bain & Co., to help with his Roy Rogers fast-food chain. But Bain prevented those at the firm from working for any client who employed their chief competitor, McKinsey & Co., which Marriott did. Or from working in a peripheral part of the business, which Roy Rogers was.

Romney had to call up “Uncle Will” — as he called him — to decline the work, according to Mike Farmer, who accompanied Romney on the sales trip.

But Romney, who once sat on the Marriott board, has stayed loyal to the Marriott empire. And now so has the phalanx of campaign operatives, television producers, camera operators and reporters, checking in behind the candidate with corporate cards in hand. (On Sunday, the Obama campaign press corp was also camped out at a Courtyard Marriott in Williamsburg.)

“It’s our home away from home,” said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Romney campaign. “We’ve converted a lot of press.”

To build brand loyalty and try to beat the competition, Marriott rewards guests with lodging’s version of frequent flyer miles for each stay. A steady accumulation of Marriott points bestows first silver, then gold and finally platinum status, each precious metal coming with its own precious perks.

“I’m platinum,” Gorka said proudly as he swirled a large glass of bourbon on the back of the press plane. Having spent at least 150 nights in Marriott hotels since January and racked up a half-million points, he spoke reverentially about the “Taste of Platinum” program. He became almost misty discussing the time the West Palm Beach Marriott upgraded him to a two-bedroom condo with balcony, hot tub, washer and dryer. He said he daydreamed about a prolonged, free stay in a perhaps tropical destination with his girlfriend, who eagerly monitored his point total back home. “Points,” he said, “are gold for us.”

On his way back toward the front of the plane, Gorka hovered over the aqua-blue screen of a reporter’s laptop. She was gazing at the crystalline waters surrounding Marriott’s Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina in the Virgin Islands. “It’s a new Marriott, autograph collection” she explained to Gorka. “It’s on a private island, 52 rooms on the marina. It looks amazing.”

“Let me know if you go,” Gorka said.

The day had started, as so many of them do, with Romney staffers and Romney press corps members climbing out of their Marriott mattresses and picking at eggs in a private breakfast room off the lobby, this time of the Columbus Airport Marriott. One of the camera crew interrupted the breakfast of one of the embedded television reporters to ask, “Are you triple platinum now?”

“Oh, yeah,” she responded matter of factly. “I, like, lived in the Marriott New Hampshire. I have 200 free nights.”

It came time to board the bus, and a circle of cameramen discussed the finer points of Marriott points, saying things like “mega bonus.”

“Have you enrolled in the platinum challenge?” one asked this reporter, who had a lowly silver status. He described an alchemy by which every two-night stay results in a free night in another Marriott. As long as it isn’t too high end, interjected a colleague, “Only category three or four, not five.”

The press then loaded onto the bus, following Romney as he campaigned around the state. Then they boarded the plane, flew with him to Boston and boarded another bus to bring them to their hotels. As the coach rolled toward the entrance of the Courtyard Marriott in Waltham, one of the embedded network producers shouted to no one in particular: “Why don’t we stay at the Westin out here? Why does the Marriott own our souls?”

 

By: Jason Horowitz, The Washington Post, October 14, 2012

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cozy Bedfellows”: Romney Spending Big At Top Benefactors’ Hotel Chain

Like all presidential candidates, Mitt Romney is perpetually on the road; trans-American speechmaking, fundraising and all-around stumping are requirements of any campaign for the White House. Tiring stuff.

When it’s time for a few hours’ sleep, Romney may not pull out his very own down pillow — as George W. Bush did when he was on the trail — but he does appear to have a preference in hotel chains: Marriott International, a company with deep personal, political and financial ties to the candidate.

Romney’s campaign has spent more than $475,000 in travel expenses at Marriott-owned hotels during the 2012 campaign — more than three-and-a-half times what he’s spent at second-place Hilton Hotels and 39 percent of the campaign’s total lodging expenditures, according to Center for Responsive Politics research.

The money, however, doesn’t flow one way: current Marriott International Chairman J.W. Marriott, Jr. and brother Richard Marriott — the chairman of a Marriott International offshoot, Host Hotels and Resorts — each have maxed out in contributions to Romney’s campaign. More significanly, they’ve donated $1,000,000 apiece to pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future.

Romney was literally born into his connections with Marriott. His was given his first name, Willard, as a tribute to J. Willard Marriott — the hotel chain’s founder and a friend of Romney’s father. Romney’s business affiliations with the hotel giant were built in the 1990s and continue, to a lesser extent, to this day. He served 10 years on Marriott’s board of directors prior to his successful 2002 run to be governor of Massachusetts. Romney rejoined the board in 2009 before announcing his resignation in January 2011, three months before forming a presidential exploratory committee.

According to personal financial statements released this month, Romney has between $101,000 and $250,000 invested in Marriott International.

“[Romney] was on our board for twelve years, and so I’ve gotten to know him and watch him in action and been very impressed with him,” J.W. Marriott, Jr., told Bloomberg Television in a June 5 interview.

Romney is not alone in his links to the resort industry. President Obama also has a hotel connection: Penny Pritzker, who’s a billionaire Hyatt executive and a co-chair of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, has donated the legal maximums of $5,000 to his reelection campaign and $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee. 

One member of Hyatt’s ruling family has strayed from the clan’s Democratic leanings, though: Thomas Pritzker — Penny Pritzker’s cousin and executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels– has contributed thousands to Republican candidates during this election cycle.

While the Marriott brothers’ $2 million in gifts to Restore Our Future is the biggest political funding effort linked to the company, the company’s PAC and employee contributions also trend Republican. Workers at the corporation have given $107,880 to Romney’s campaign in the 2012 race, according to CRP research; by comparison, Obama’s campaign has received just $15,170 from Marriott International employees. Marriott’s corporate PAC has sent 63 percent of its nearly $175,000 in 2012 donations to Republicans.

 

By: Dan Glaun, OpenSecrets Blog, June 7, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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