Had enough? Citizens, take back your government!

Romney buys support from conservative movement

  • $10,000 to National Review - which later endorsed him for president
  • $15,000 to Mass Citizens for Life - which later gave him an award
  • $10,000 to Massachusetts Family Institute - which now praises him across the country.
  • $25,000 to the Heritage Foundation - which praises his health plan
  • $35,000 to the Federalist Society - full of influencial conservatives

Not to mention literally hundreds of conservative activists, Republican activists, bloggers, columnists and others. Like no other candidate in history, Romney has used his vast wealth to literally buy the conservative movement.

In Romney’s Bid, His Wallet Opens to the Right

New York Times
Sunday, March 11, 2007 (Page 1)
[Link to article on NY Times website ]

WASHINGTON, March 10 — In the months before announcing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts contributed tens of thousands of dollars of his personal fortune to several conservative groups in a position to influence his image on the right.

Last December, a foundation controlled by Mr. Romney made contributions of $10,000 to $15,000 to each of three Massachusetts organizations associated with major national conservative groups: the antiabortion Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Massachusetts Citizens for Limited Taxation and the Christian conservative Massachusetts Family Institute.

Mr. Romney and a group of his supporters also contributed a total of about $10,000 to a nonprofit group affiliated with National Review. Over the past two years, he contributed $35,000 to the Federalist Society, an influential network of conservative lawyers. And in December 2005, he contributed $25,000 to the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative research organization.

The recipients of Mr. Romney’s donations said the money had no influence on them. But some of the groups, notably Citizens for Life and the Family Institute, have turned supportive of Mr. Romney after criticizing him in the past.

Coming on the eve of his presidential campaign, Mr. Romney’s contributions could create the appearance of a conflict of interest for groups often asked to evaluate him. All the groups said he had never contributed before, and his foundation’s public tax filings show no previous gifts to similar groups. Its 2006 contributions will become public with its tax filings later this year.

The support of such leading conservative organizations in Mr. Romney’s home state has become an important element of Mr. Romney’s primary campaign because he faces doubts from some conservatives over his past support for abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, gun control and gay rights.

Mr. Romney has said he had a change of heart on all four issues by the time he left the governor’s office.

His contributions are also an early sign of the outsize role that Mr. Romney’s vast wealth, mainly accumulated as founder of the buyout firm Bain Capital, could play in the 2008 election. The race is shaping up to be the first since Watergate waged without public campaign financing or any spending limits. Mr. Romney has never disclosed his net worth, but analysts who track buyout firm compensation said it was likely to exceed $500 million.

In 2002, he ran the most expensive race for governor in Massachusetts history, spending about $6 million of his own money over eight months on a campaign that cost a total of $9.4 million.

Conservative critics of Mr. Romney have already seized on a $15,000 donation to Massachusetts Citizens for Life — which was first reported in January on a little-noticed anti-Romney blog by Carol M. McKinley, an antiabortion activist in the state — to argue that he is trying to buy the group’s support, or at least silence its criticism. Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, is also helping to raise money from others for the group.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life was critical of Mr. Romney, who was then a supporter of abortion rights, during most of his tenure as governor. But over the past few months, its officials have issued favorable statements about his record on abortion issues that have become an integral element of his appeal to social conservatives.

At a conference of conservative activists in Washington last week, Mr. Romney’s campaign passed out a statement from the group praising him as one of Massachusetts’ “strongest assets.”

The conservative Web site Mass Resistance accused the group of selling out. “Outrageous,” the site declared. Mass Resistance has published a dossier on Mr. Romney’s former liberal views and has become a hub of conservative opposition to his nomination.

Marie Sturgis, executive director of Citizens for Life, said his donation had no influence on her group, which has an annual budget of about $600,000.

“Granted, when he began his role as governor he certainly was not with us,” Ms. Sturgis said. “But toward the end, if you look at the record, especially in the stem cell debate, he certainly took the pro-life position consistently.”

Mr. Romney has said that talking to researchers about embryonic stem cell research convinced him to oppose its public financing and changed his views on abortion rights, and Ms. Sturgis said his check arrived with a brief note commending the group for its work.

A spokesman for Mr. Romney said his donations demonstrated his convictions. “He has donated his time and his effort and whatever resources he can to help advance their causes,” the spokesman, Kevin Madden, said.

Mr. Madden declined to comment on Mr. Romney’s net worth or what role it might play in the race. The public financial disclosure forms completed by presidential candidates do not reveal net worth, and Mr. Madden said the campaign had not yet decided whether to release Mr. Romney’s tax returns.

“What is important is not the amount of money that the governor has personally, but instead the message and the vision that he has,” he said.

The son of a former chairman of the American Motor Company who became governor of Michigan, Mitt Romney was never poor. He had a successful career as a well-paid consultant at the blue-chip firm Bain & Company, including a stint as its chief executive.

But his best-known source of wealth is as founder of the company’s private equity firm, Bain Capital. One of its funds was an early investor in the Staples stores. Others later bought out a host of well known companies including Domino’s Pizza.

Mr. Romney started Bain Capital in 1984 with an initial fund of about $40 million. During the fourteen years he ran it, Bain Capital’s investments reportedly earned an annual rate of return of over 100 percent. By then, Bain controlled assets worth billions.

Mr. Romney is not the first rich politician whose philanthropy dovetails with his politics. When Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat who was previously co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, ran for the Senate in 2000, for example, opponents criticized him for giving more than $100,000 to nonprofit organizations, including African-American churches, whose leaders had endorsed him.

The first of Mr. Romney’s recent wave of donations to conservative groups was $25,000 to the Heritage Foundation at the end of 2005. The foundation analysts worked with him on a health care plan and later praised it, as did some other conservative groups.

John Von Kannon, vice president of development for the Heritage Foundation, said the donation had no influence.

Mr. Romney followed a $25,000 contribution to the Federalist Society in 2005 with an additional $10,000 last year, the group’s officials said. Although the Federalist Society does not endorse candidates or policies, some of its top officials are highly influential voices among conservatives on the subject of judicial nominations.

Eugene B. Meyer, president of the society, said a supporter of the organization had sought a donation from Mr. Romney as part of a general Boston fund-raising drive. The group’s annual budget is over $7 million.

Mr. Romney gave $5,000 to help sponsor the anniversary dinner celebrating National Review’s Web site last October at a Washington steakhouse. Another group called Evangelicals for Mitt also gave $5,000. (David French, founder of Evangelicals for Mitt, said the dual donations were a coincidence.)

Both sponsorships were acknowledged at the time, and the money went to the nonprofit National Review Institute, not the magazine or Web site.

The magazine and its Web site have written favorably of Mr. Romney. But Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, pointed to the magazine’s recent cover story praising a Romney rival for the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona. “Obviously it’s had no influence on our coverage,” Mr. Lowry said of the donations.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in an interview that his organization received a $10,000 check from Mr. Romney late last year with an appreciative note. The group previously criticized Mr. Romney as taking liberal stands during his first years as governor, but Mr. Mineau recently sought to enlist other Massachusetts social conservatives in signing an open letter supporting the governor. (Some balked because of his record, The Boston Globe reported.)

Mr. Mineau, though, said he arrived at the organization only three years ago and since then had collaborated with Mr. Romney on efforts to ban same-sex marriage, oppose embryonic stem cell research and promote sexual abstinence. The Family Institute is part of a network for Christian conservative groups affiliated with the national Family Research Council in Washington and Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

Mr. Romney has also acknowledged that he made a small contribution last August, in the form of a personal membership fee, to the National Rifle Association, a major force in the Republican primary. He had previously campaigned as an advocate of stricter gun control laws. In an interview, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s top executive, said the organization appreciated every membership but was staying out of the primary for now.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Limited Taxation, a group affiliated with Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, said in an interview that she was surprised Mr. Romney had sent her group a check for $10,000. Other departing Republican governors had sent appreciative notes but none had sent a check as well, Ms. Anderson said.

It was hardly necessary, she said. Unlike the other conservative groups, her organization has gotten along well with Mr. Romney from the start. “Give us four years and that is all we can ask for,” she said.