By Michael Beckel, iWatch News by the Center for Public Integrity
A smiling Kristi Yamaguchi gushes about Republican Mitt Romney in a new ad paid for by the conservative super PAC Restore Our Future. She admires the presidential candidate so much that she’s also given his campaigns nearly $5,000.
In addition, everyone else in the new ad, which was unveiled Monday, is also a donor. What are the chances of that?
“Mitt Romney brought a huge sense of hope,” Yamaguchi, who won gold in the 1992 Olympics in figure skating, says in the ad.
“Mitt gets things done,” adds Jimmy Shea, who won gold in the 2002 Olympics in skeleton, a racing event similar to luge.
“Mitt allowed athletes like myself to be able to realize our dreams,” adds Derek Parra, who won gold and silver medals in speed skating events during the 2002 Olympics.
It’s rare for Olympic athletes to make political contributions. Romney, in fact, is the only candidate to whom Yamaguchi, Shea and Parra have given money.
Yamaguchi donated the legal maximum of $2,300 to Romney’s presidential campaign four years ago, as did her husband Bret Hedican, a retired National Hockey League player who also competed in two Olympics games. Additionally, last summer, Yamaguchi gave $2,500 to Romney’s current presidential campaign.
Parra also gave the legal maximum of $2,300 to Romney’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid and has donated $1,000 in the current election.
Shea, meanwhile, contributed $2,300 to Romney’s campaign four years ago.
Also featured in the ad is Frasier Bullock, who served as the COO — and later president and CEO — of the committee in Salt Lake City that organized the 2002 games. Bullock, who is now a private equity executive in Utah, is likewise a Romney campaign donor.
Bullock gave $2,500 to Romney’s campaign last year, and in May, he donated an additional $50,000 to the Romney Victory Fund — money that is split between the Romney campaign and several Republican Party committees, including the Republican National Committee.
Politicians often use the international competition as a time to stress national unity, not partisanship.
Last week, when Olympic officials required Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing President Barack Obama, to pull an ad that used old Olympics footage, United States Olympics Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky vowed that the group would “not allow Olympic footage to be used in any political ad, positive or negative.”
The new ad from Restore Our Future does not feature footage, but does show photos from the games.
These campaign donors-turned-celebrity endorsers aren’t Restore Our Future’s only ties to the Olympics.
New Jersey-based Jet Set Sports, a company that provides luxury hospitality packages for the games, along with its founder Sead Dizdarevic, have donated five-figure sums to the super PAC, as the Center for Public Integrity previously noted.
Dizdarevic was involved in the corruption scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, testifying during the subsequent trial —after being granted immunity — that he had handed over cash to Salt Lake officials in hopes of securing a hospitality contract.
Furthermore, Jet Set Sports President Mark Lewis is the co-chair of Romney’s finance team in Montana.
According to The Hill, the new Olympics-themed ad from Restore Our Future is part of a previously announced $7 million media buy and will air in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.