Regulations

Limousine Industry Executives Help Raise Funds For Mitt Romney

Posted on March 14, 2012
Ann and Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a Boston fundraiser March 7 that included limousine company executives from around the nation.

Ann and Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a Boston fundraiser March 7 that included limousine company executives from around the nation.

Limousine industry supporters who attended the Romney fundraiser in Boston gathered for a post-event dinner. Seated (L to R): Dawson Rutter, Diane Forgy, Tami Saccaccio, and Ken Lucci. Standing (L to R): Mark Mollica, Michael Fogarty, Thomas Arrighi, Scott Solombrino, Sam Amato, Robert Alexander, David Eckstein, Michael Campbell, Greg Pruitt, Jerald Robbins, and Derek Maxwell.
Limousine industry supporters who attended the Romney fundraiser in Boston gathered for a post-event dinner. Seated (L to R): Dawson Rutter, Diane Forgy, Tami Saccaccio, and Ken Lucci. Standing (L to R): Mark Mollica, Michael Fogarty, Thomas Arrighi, Scott Solombrino, Sam Amato, Robert Alexander, David Eckstein, Michael Campbell, Greg Pruitt, Jerald Robbins, and Derek Maxwell.

BOSTON — Limousine industry leaders made a bold and unprecedented move last week in raising money for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who the leaders view as the most friendly Presidential candidate to the industry.

A total of 17 chauffeured transportation industry executives attended the event the evening of March 7 at the Boston College Club in Boston, where Romney and his wife, Ann, spoke, shook hands, greeted attendees, and posed for photos. All of the industry executives who attended are members of the National Limousine Association, the leading trade group that represents and advances the interests of the U.S. chauffeured transportation industry.

The early support for Romney underscores how critical the upcoming Presidential election is to the collective future health of the chauffeured transportation industry.

Friendly funds
The National Limousine Association does not officially endorse any political candidates on behalf of its membership, nor does it tell its members how to vote. However, the group’s Political Action Committee, NLA PAC, has a bipartisan record of donating to political candidates of both parties whose policies are favorable to the chauffeured transportation industry. For this event, the NLA PAC donated $2,500 to the Romney campaign.

LIST OF 53 LIMOUSINE INDUSTRY DONORS TO MITT ROMNEY HERE.

Ann and Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a Boston fundraiser March 7 that included limousine company executives from around the nation.
Ann and Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a Boston fundraiser March 7 that included limousine company executives from around the nation.

 

The event, with about 500 total attendees, was hosted by the finance team of the Romney Believe In America campaign, for which NLA board director Scott Solombrino is a volunteer fundraiser. All donors who are NLA members and/or board directors or affiliated with the industry contributed as individual companies and/or citizens, and are listed as such on donor documents. Altogether, individual industry executives and leaders along with the NLA PAC contributed about $75,000 to the Romney campaign. Industry members had committed to raising $25,000, but the final tally came in at three times that amount from a total of 53 limousine industry contributors. The March 7 event itself raised a total of about $1 million for the Romney campaign.

Since the industry first formally organized itself with the creation of the NLA in 1985, such strong participation in a Presidential campaign fundraising event stands unprecedented. Never before have so many limousine industry leaders coalesced around a candidate this early in a Presidential race. Romney is still locked in a tough primary battle with Republican opponents Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The early support of key industry members underscores the critical political, economic, and regulatory challenges facing the chauffeured transportation industry, which in many ways are emblematic of the burdens confronting the global business travel sector as well as small- to medium-sized Main Street-type American businesses.

Ann Romney introduces her husband Mitt Romney at the Boston fundraiser March 7 that included 17 leading executives of the limousine industry.
Ann Romney introduces her husband Mitt Romney at the Boston fundraiser March 7 that included 17 leading executives of the limousine industry.

 

Romney appeal
What makes Romney so appealing to the limousine industry leaders is the fact that Romney can relate to the industry on two fronts:

  1. As a former CEO and businessman, he fully understands the obstacles and challenges facing the U.S. private sector in the wake of a harsh recession and a government regulatory system that has expanded since President Obama took office in January 2009.
  2. As a longtime client of chauffeured transportation services and as a traveling business executive, Romney has a front-line-back-seat knowledge and perspective of the chauffeured transportation industry, how it operates, and the integral role it plays in the U.S. ground transportation and business travel sectors.

Solombrino told LCT that Romney’s connection to the industry is stronger than that of any previous Presidential candidate, including previous pro-business Republican candidates.

“Mitt Romney fully understands and appreciates the hardworking nature of people involved in the chauffeured transportation industry and its relevance of being a part of small business America,” Solombrino said. “Due to the aggressive nature of this Administration in the enforcement of unnecessary and overbearing regulations, the chauffeured transportation industry has been a target.”

Other NLA members who donated to Romney and attended the event said operators need to understand how government actions and policies from one Administration to the next can directly affect the health of the limousine industry.

“Romney understands the importance of business travel and what business travel is because he has lived that way,” said Robert Alexander, CEO of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, which serves the Washington, D.C. metro region. “He has a perspective from the back seat of the car, he’s run a company as a CEO, and he knows what it’s like owning a car and running it.”

By interacting with operators at the fundraiser, Romney has acknowledged the chauffeured transportation industry, Alexander said. “You can’t say that about any other candidate. That alone is a step in the right direction. He gave us an audience and we responded in kind by donating money. If you believe in what we’re doing, and that what the federal government does affects your livelihood, you should support him in any way you can.”

Tampa Bay operator Kenneth Lucci of Ambassador Limousine said the event puts the industry on the Romney radar screen. “I view last week as opening a dialogue with what we hope will be the next Administration,” he said. “It has everything to do with that Romney equals realistic regulation in this industry. Every one of his top aides was impressed. I walked to up to [Romney] and he said, ‘My God, I think every limousine company in the country is here tonight.’ I said, ‘You met limousine operators from every part of the country. Our message is clear that we need a friend and ally who will not look at business with dollar signs for fines and regulations.’”

Because of the Obama Administration’s mismanagement of the economy and drive toward more regulations, governments at all levels are trying to gouge more money out of small businesses, Lucci said. “This Administration is absolutely over the deep end on regulating small business out of business. That’s what people need to understand. . . As a businessman, I am unbelievably, grossly concerned and disgusted with what I see is happening.”

Gary Buffo, CEO of Pure Luxury Transportation in Petaluma, Calif., expressed a common sentiment among operators more oriented toward business than politics: "I seldom support politicians, but over the past several years our industry became a victim from policies and regulations that will be detrimental to our industry's success.  I know this is our industry's time to make a change to protect us in the future.  I truly feel Mr. Romney could be the best chance our industry has to be close to the White House.  This is not about red or blue, this is about the chauffeured car and bus industry.  We must step up as an industry to make our own change in the future."

Industry Romney supporters and donors at the Boston College Club event included: (L to R) Sam Amato, David Eckstein, an unidentified industry member, Thomas Arrighi, Michael Fogarty, Robert Alexander, Diane Forgy, and Ken Lucci.
Industry Romney supporters and donors at the Boston College Club event included: (L to R) Sam Amato, David Eckstein, an unidentified industry member, Thomas Arrighi, Michael Fogarty, Robert Alexander, Diane Forgy, and Ken Lucci.

 

Policy points
In an interview with LCT, Solombrino detailed specific several actions and policies of the Obama Administration deemed harmful to the industry:

  • President Obama’s early 2009 bad-mouthing of the business travel sector and the niche market of executive conferences and retreats. He expressed those sentiments in a broad swipe at the Las Vegas hospitality market, actually trying to shame companies and executives into not traveling for business. Those comments proved to be typical of many public statements to come by Obama, whose political strategy now rests on a divisive, class-warfare approach designed to create resentment and backlash against wealthy and successful private sector Americans who pay one of the highest shares ever of the total federal tax take.
  • Obama Administration edicts to government workers to minimize travel in order to reduce their carbon footprints. “The U.S. government is the largest purchaser of travel in the world,” Solombrino said. “There’s a memo telling people not to go to association meetings and conferences because they want to reduce the carbon count. What this is doing is affecting thousands of potential jobs in the travel industry because they are worried about carbon counts, which is absurd at a time of an [8.3%] unemployment rate.” Solombrino, also the head of the Allied Leadership Council of the Global Business Travel Association, said industry studies show that one in seven jobs worldwide come from the travel, hospitality, restaurant, and tourism industries.
  • President Obama’s continuing aversion to energy development, such as his opposition to the construction of the trans-continental Keystone Pipeline; continuing support of regulatory hurdles for off-shore oil drilling and onshore natural gas extraction; and crony capitalist-style government support of alternative energy companies and programs, many of which have received federal funds only to then go bankrupt, cut jobs, close down, and/or deliver results that are inefficient compared to those of traditional energy sources. That has contributed to higher energy costs, namely fuel prices that directly affect chauffeured transportation companies which must pass costs on to clients in the form of fuel surcharges.
  • Under the Obama Administration, back door rulemaking has become more prevalent at federal agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency, that put the industry under increased stress, Solombrino said. Many of these rules are passed without Congressional input or approval. As an example, he cited federal attempts to levy overtime pay requirements on gratuities, which create undue overhead and compliance burdens on limousine companies. That is one of the leading issues that the NLA is fighting to reverse.

“This President has been very focused on attacking business by creating regulatory roadblocks that are inhibiting the growth of the industry,” Solombrino said. “This is also a President who has this green ideology, which as a chauffeured car operator, is not practical because there are not vehicle offerings available. The technology has not caught up with need in the chauffeured car world.”

Alexander summed up the election year rule: “By supporting Romney, you are supporting yourself.”

Top industry contributors
Those operators and industry members contributing the maximum amount of $2,500 according to campaign finance rules include: Dennis Adams, Celebrity Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation; John Ahern, Town Car International; Robert Alexander, RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation; Sam Amato, Gateway Limousine; Thomas Arrighi, A&A Metro Transportation; Cheryl Berkman, Music Express; Gary & Jennifer Buffo, Pure Luxury Transportation, David Eckstein, Valera Global, Michael Fogarty, Tristar Worldwide Chauffeured Services, Diane Forgy, Overland Limousine; Neil Goodman, Aventura Worldwide; Richard Kane, International Limousine Service; Kenneth Lucci, Ambassador Limousine; Michael Marino, California Wine Tours; Mark Mollica, Black Tie Limousine; Dawson Rutter, Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation; David Seelinger, Empire CLS Worldwide Chauffeured Services; Scott Solombrino, Dav El Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation Network.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

Photos courtesy of David Eckstein of Valera Global

Related Topics: industry politics, industry trends, leadership, limousine regulations, National Limousine Association

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