Politics

Romney attacked for work at Bain Capital while Democratic-leaning Bain execs are spared

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

Democratic campaign strategists are preparing to slap former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for his past work at Bain Capital, even though most of his former colleagues at the firm are Democratic donors and partisans.

Bain’s leftward tilt was highlighted in May when two of its leading partners announced they had hired Kevin Jennings, a controversial Department of Education political appointee, to run a Boston-based charity called Be the Change Inc.

That organization “creates national issue-based campaigns by organizing coalitions of non-profits, social entrepreneurs, policymakers, private sector and civic leaders, academics, and citizens,” according to its website.

Social conservatives have been critical of Jennings for his strident advocacy against traditional sexual norms. In 1990 he founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to win government support and public approval of teen homosexuality. President Barack Obama appointed him in 2009 to the Department of of Education’s school-safety office, where he pushed for increased government intervention in high schools to aid gay and lesbian teenagers.

The organized political right hailed Jennings’ departure from government. “Jennings can take his radical beliefs elsewhere instead of subjecting our nation’s kids to them,” read a statement from Penny Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, a D.C.-based conservative advocacy group.

Mitt Romney helped found Bain Capital in 1984 and managed its rapid growth until he left in 1999. His sizable Bain-derived wealth still comprises a large part of his assets. In one savvy move, Romney approved Bain’s investment in a proposal to establish a chain of office supply stores. The chain is is Staples, and it’s now worth $9.4 billion on the stock market.

But a majority of the firm’s executives support liberal Democrats rather than free-market Republicans. Their political preferences are illustrated by their political donations.

The two Bain partners on Be the Change’s board who hired Jennings are Jonathan Lavine and Joshua Bekenstein. Lavine has donated $415,000 to Democrats, and nothing to Republicans. Bekenstein, who serves on Bain’s senior management committee, has made $545,000 in political donations, of which only a small amount went to GOP causes. Romney, for example, received only $4,300 from Bekenstein.

Overall, Bain executives have donated nearly $3 million dollars to political causes since 1990, according to data provided by the non-profit Center for Public Integrity.

Only about one-quarter of that sum went to GOP groups, mostly to party committees that allocate funding to candidates favored by the donor. During the period when Romney served as Bain’s home-state governor, only 52 of his former partners donated directly to his campaigns, totaling just $130,000.

Bain’s partners donated only $20,000 to two-term president George W. Bush.

Center for Public Integrity data do not highlight donations by executives after they leave the company. One former Bain executive, Ed Conard, announced Saturday that he had donated $1 million to Romney’s current campaign for the GOP nomination. He used a shell company, W Spann LLC, to temporarily conceal his donation to Restore Our Future PAC, which supports Romney.

Bain executives’ donations to Democratic causes have largely shielded them from left-wing criticism, even as Democratic advocates have repeatedly slammed Romney’s work at Bain.

During the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial election, for example, The Boston Globe quoted union leaders who were critical of Romney — but not of Bain — for closing down money-losing factories. “’This [protest] is not about one or two closings,’ said Bob Haynes, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO. ‘This is about [Romney] disrespecting workers for the course of a full career. His business acumen is not good for working families,” according to the Globe’s report.

Similarly, an Aug. 9 report in Politico said President Obama’s reelection campaign would target Romney’s work at Bain, and also paint him as a finger-in-the-wind politician. “It is disgraceful that President Obama’s campaign has launched his re-election with the stated goal to ‘kill’ his opponent with an onslaught of negative and personal attacks,” according to a statement from Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades.

“President Obama will say and do desperate things to hold onto power because he knows he has failed,” Rhoades added in the same statement. “Neither despicable threats, nor President Obama’s billion dollar negative campaign, will put Americans back to work, save their homes, or restore their hopes. On November 6, 2012, this will change.”