Meet Mitt’s Money-Man: Low Key Woody Johnson Key To Gang (Green) Busters GOP Fundraising

When asked to estimate how many people he has contacted on behalf of the Romney campaign, Mr. Johnson said, “Oh, brother. Every Republican in New York,” then added, “several thousand.” He spends, he says, 25 hours a week just making phone calls, plus whatever time he spends heading to lunches on behalf of the candidate. He organizes major call-athons, too, getting a hundred or so Republicans prominent in business to make phone calls on behalf of the candidate.

“A lot of people get a title and a name, and they want a big name they can put on top of the letterhead,” said Mr. Zwick. “Woody is a big name, but he really works. He doesn’t just oversee who makes the calls. By the time the event rolls around, he has really worked every single host committee member.”

It is hard to ignore, however, Mr. Johnson’s proximity to the Jets as draw for donors. His position with the team gives him what one donor called, “some regional celebrity,” and another said that dreams of being invited to the owner’s box dance in the heads Mr. Romney’s big donors.

“He has the power of his name, and gravitas, and talent,” said Georgette Mosbacher, who along with her husband helped introduce Mr. Johnson to the world of Republican fundraising back in the 1980s. “And he owns a football team. Men are still the primary money people in politics and he is almost like a celebrity with them.”

As for Mr. Romney, according to Mr. Zwick, “Mitt loves being with Woody. He is extremely grateful for all Woody has done, and Woody has never asked for anything. I mean, what does Woody Johnson actually need?”

Plus, he said, Mr. Romney delights in a fact that several of Mr. Johnson’s friends listed as his most recognizable trait: his mode of transportation. “Mitt loves the fact that Woody Johnson gets around town on a Razor scooter. He finds that hysterical. This is a guy that takes a helicopter from Teterboro to 34th Street and gets on his Razor scooter. I mean, the irony!”

Friends of both say too that is a way in which Mr. Johnson fits into Romneyworld in a way most brash New York donors do not. Mr. Johnson is not the kind of money man who thinks his proximity to the campaign allows him to advise them on what kind of ads they should be running in swing states, or who believes he has special insight into what independent voters want to hear.

“Romney has that Midwestern honesty thing about him,” said one person close to the campaign. “They don’t like people that are hard-charging, intense, screaming types that go on all the Sunday shows. Woody is low-maintenance.”

And self-deprecating, too. Mr. Johnson has been known to say on fundraising calls that, “Mitt has the smartest people in America around him—and me.”

For Mr. Johnson, he explains his devotion to Mr. Romney by cycling through his accomplishments—his turnaround of the Olympics, his working with a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts to balance budgets—but what really animates him is talking about what a disaster Mr. Obama has been.

“If you agree with the premise that free markets and free enterprise and the success of small business and medium-size business are important in delivering jobs to the people,” he explained, “then the CEO that is against small business, doesn’t like business, doesn’t like small business, doesn’t like medium business, doesn’t like business business, doesn’t trust business, wants to regulate business, wants more business to be done by the government.”

If Mr. Obama is reelected, Mr. Johnson said, it will mean more taxes, new regulations, a shrunken military. The election, he said, will be a referendum on the president, so “the president is trying to take the public’s mind off his record and off his promises of change and onto things like Bain Capital and Mrs. Romney being a housewife.”

He likes Mr. Romney, he said, because “he is open to suggestions. He is not a possessive guy. I think if he finds a better way he will switch. That is a positive. That comes from a humble, nonegotistical background. I don’t think you find that in a lot of candidates.”

The Romney campaign declined to speculate on how much Mr. Johnson has actually raised, but it is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

One secret of Mr. Johnson’s, a friend said, is that he has been known to ask donors to give more than they are capable of, flattering them that he thinks they have bigger wallets then they actually do. His relationship with Mr. Romney helps too, with several donors suggesting that they believed that if they have Mr. Johnson’s ear, they probably have the candidate’s, too.

“There is a certain acquired skill I guess in making these calls,” he said. “They have to know that it is not about me, but that all of this goes to the candidate. They have to know that perhaps through me the candidate will know a little something about them. I am there in some ways as an ombudsman for them.”

If Mr. Romney wins, there is no telling what it could mean for Mr. Johnson. Typically, people in his position go on to high-level cabinet posts at the Department of Commerce or somewhere similar, or take prestigious ambassadorships. Friends say that if a President Romney asks him to take one of these jobs on, it would be hard for him to turn down.

Mr. Johnson is unequivocal.

“I am not doing anything,” he said. “I’ve got young boys. I’ve got a team that I love running.”

But, he added, “I do like being a part of the process.”

dfreedlander@observer.com

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