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Mitt Romney has been far and away the best-funded of the Republicans running for president. In addition to his own campaign chest, he has the backing of the wealthiest superPAC, Restore Our Future. Among its donors are brothers J.W. and Richard Marriott. Each gave $750,000. The Marriotts and the Romneys have long been close.
And NPR's Brian Naylor has this profile of the Marriott brothers, part of our occasional series on Million Dollar Donors.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The roots of the Marriott family fortune stretch back to a simple root beer stand here in Washington, D.C., some 85 years ago. It was where two Mormon transplants from Utah, J. Willard Marriott and his bride Alice began selling tamales, along with the root beer and named their stand the Hot Shoppe.
(SOUNDBITE OF JINGLE, "HOT SHOPPE")
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Good and reliable, delicious and delectable, true-blue American, Hot Shoppe Restaurant.
NAYLOR: From that humble beginning arose a global hospitality empire. The company is no longer in the restaurant business, but there are now more than 3,000 hotels bearing the Marriott name. That growth was due in large part to J.W. Marriott, Jr., known as Bill, who convinced his father to get into the lodging business in a big way.
Jeff Beck is a professor at the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. Beck, a former Marriott employee, says Bill Marriott made a big mark in the industry.
JEFF BECK: I really think the mark is driving the Marriott name into all areas of the lodging industry, all market segments of the lodging industry, and being a leader in coming up with new ideas.
NAYLOR: For Bill Marriott, who recently stepped down as CEO of Marriott, and his brother Richard who leads a Marriott spin-off called Host, being heirs to the family business has been lucrative. Both are on Forbes magazines list of the wealthiest Americans, each with a net worth of over a billion dollars.
And they've spent a bit of that fortune on politics. Not only did they donate a total of a million and a half dollars to Restore Our Future, they've also given to congressional campaigns. Most but not all of their contributions have gone to Republicans. The company's Political Action Committee has also been active.
And MSU's Beck says Marriott employees were encouraged to give to candidates with an eye to helping the company.
BECK: It was never for anything related to a particular party. It was more of a focus on what would be best for the lodging industry and what would be best for the tourism industry.
NAYLOR: The one issue on which Bill Marriott has been publicly outspoken is immigration reform. Perhaps not surprisingly given he has led a company that employs thousands in low-wage service jobs, many performed by immigrants. Here's Marriott speaking at the National Press Club in 2008.
BILL MARRIOTT: Its impossible to send 12 million undocumented immigrants home. We really need to cool the rhetoric and work together to come up with a federal solution, one that creates a workable verification system so that we employers know who we're hiring.
NAYLOR: It's not clear whether Mitt Romney's stand on illegal immigration matches Marriotts' views. Romney has called for self-deportation for undocumented immigrants, and seems to have ruled out a path to citizenship.
But there are deeper ties between the Marriotts and the Romneys. The candidate's father, George, and J. Willard Marriott were good friends. So much so that Mitt Romney's given name is Willard. Romney served twice on the Marriott board. And there's their shared Mormon faith.
David Campbell teaches religion and politics at the University of Notre Dame. He says many Mormons and many Republicans hold common views.
DAVID CAMPBELL: The growth of Republican support among Mormons really took off in the late '70s through the '80s, when the Republican Party adopted its social conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage and women's rights. And that's where you really saw the cementing of this relationship between Mormons and the Republicans.
NAYLOR: And Campbell says a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates Mormons from both parties like Romney.
CAMPBELL: Mitt Romney is viewed very favorably among not just Mormon Republicans, which you would expect, but also among Mormon Democrats. This is a candidate who I think is thought to be an exemplar of the faith and the culture, and so has a lot of support behind him on those grounds.
NAYLOR: Neither Bill nor Richard Marriott was available to be interviewed for this story. But Richard told the Boston Globe last year, quote, "We've just been supportive of him," adding "if Romney wants us to help out on certain things, then we're willing to help."
And during Romneys first run for the GOP nomination in 2008, Bill Marriott gushed with praise during an interview on Bloomberg TV.
MARRIOTT: Well, I've known Mitt Romney for a long time. He was on our board of directors for 10 years. He is extremely capable, competent, honest, and a great family man. I think he'd make a terrific president. He's a wonderful leader and he's very bright and smart. He understands how to make decisions and gather the right information. And to me he's a very inspirational, strong leader.
NAYLOR: But Marriott recently had some political advice for Romney. He told the Associated Press that Romney's message is too complicated. And that his 59-point economic policy needs to be simplified. People aren't going to listen to 59 points, Marriott told the AP. Referring to the centerpiece of Herman Cain's campaign, Marriott said, quote, "They want 9-9-9."
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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