Mitt Romney 12 photo

Republican presidential candidate Mitt RomneyJim Young/Reuters

Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney – and portrayed by President Barack Obama’s supporters as a gang of corporate raiders – has pumped nearly $4.5 million into Democratic campaigns and causes, public records show.

A Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of campaign finance reports shows that in the past two decades, donors with ties to Bain and its related companies have been firm financial supporters of Democratic candidates in federal and state races around the nation.

Obama has received $417,000 from Bain donors, including $182,000 for his current re-election campaign, the records show.

To be sure, the firm’s executives have been more generous to Romney and other Republican candidates.

Since Romney first entered politics – in a failed 1994 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat – he has obtained $4.39 million from donors with ties to Bain Capital and related companies, including the Bain & Co. consulting firm. Other Republican candidates received an additional $2.86 million.

But outside of the donations to Romney, Bain donors actually have been more generous to Democrats than Republicans, according to the records.

Nevertheless, in speeches at the Democratic National Convention and in a series of hard-edged television ads aired in presidential battleground states, Obama’s supporters have depicted Romney and Bain as profiteers who made millions wrecking U.S. companies and ruining worker’s lives.

In a statement, Bain Capital said that the company’s employees have “a wide range of political views and relationships.” The company itself doesn’t take public positions on candidates, the statement said. The company didn’t respond to questions about Democrats’ criticism of the firm.

The records show that some Bain donors continued to give money to Obama even after Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super political action committee, began rolling out the controversial series of anti-Bain attack ads in May.

“Thousands of workers lost jobs, benefits and pensions,” an announcer intones in one ad, as the screen shows a grainy image of an abandoned factory. “But for every company he drove into the ground, Romney averaged a $92 million profit.”

In another ad, a laid-off steel worker says, “Romney and Bain … used us just like, just like we were the scrap steel.”

Another ad, bitterly disputed by Romney, partly blames Bain for the death of a factory worker’s wife: Her cancer went undetected, the ad claims, because her laid-off husband had lost his health insurance.

Their tone was so harsh that some Democratic Party officials – including former President Bill Clinton – publicly criticized the ads.

Romney dismissed the ads as “vicious lies.” On his campaign website, Romney claims that during his time at Bain, he “helped save thousands of jobs” by turning around struggling companies.

The attacks demonstrate that Obama is “the most anti-business president in memory,” Romney’s campaign contends.

To track Bain’s political money, California Watch examined $12.12 million in donations made by some 400 Bain-affiliated donors starting in 1992. Data came from the Federal Election Commission, state elections websites and two nonprofits that specialize in campaign finance information, the Center for Responsive Politics and National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The records show that overall, Republican candidates and causes received about 59 percent of the Bain money, or $7.25 million, while Democrats got about 36 percent, or $4.47 million. The biggest single recipient of Bain donations – at $3.58 million – was Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC.

But the second-biggest Bain beneficiary, at $689,000, was the DNC Services Corp., a fundraising arm of the Democratic National Committee. Three other committees that raise money for congressional Democrats received a combined $1.19 million. More than 200 other Democratic officials and liberal causes also got donations, including two Democrats who ran for president: John Kerry ($222,000) and Hillary Rodham Clinton ($22,000).

Barack Obama 12 photo

President Barack ObamaLarry Downing/Reuters

Obama’s first Bain donation came in 2004, when Joshua Bekenstein, a managing director at Bain Capital, gave $500 to his U.S. Senate campaign, records show. In the years that followed, Obama received $402,000 from Bain donors and $15,000 via contributions to the Hope Fund, his Senate PAC.

In June and July, well after the Democrats had targeted Bain, 10 executives from Bain Capital and Bain & Co. together donated $7,400 to the president’s re-election campaign, records show.

When donating to Republicans, Bain donors strongly favored candidates like Romney – politicians who had formerly worked at Bain. The one who received the most directly was Meg Whitman, a onetime Bain & Co. senior vice president. Bain donors gave her $458,000 for her failed 2010 campaign for California governor.

In part, Bain’s donation pattern simply might reflect geography: Bain is headquartered in blue state Massachusetts, where liberals like Kerry, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy ($21,000) and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank ($3,400) are important local figures.

It might be explained partly by the personal political views of Bain officials. Bekenstein, the director who first donated to Obama, has given to many Democrats and was at one time a member of liberal billionaire George Soros’ Democracy Alliance. 

But ideology typically plays a limited role when big companies in heavily regulated industries make campaign donations, said Alexandre Padilla, an economist at Metropolitan State University of Denver who tracks campaign finance issues.

Instead, companies like Bain donate with an eye to the bottom line, hoping to influence rulemakers “to prevent too much regulation or to get regulation that is going to benefit them,” Padilla said in an interview.

“Bain is giving money to lobby to ensure that policies developed by the government won’t penalize them or make it more costly for them to do business,” he wrote in a follow-up email. “Similarly, they give money to both horses in the race. … It’s just a way of diversifying your risk.”

Democratic strategist Bob Mulholland accused Romney and Bain of directing donations to Democrats in hopes of blunting criticism of the firm.

“Being a political animal, Romney made sure their lobbyists threw a lot of money toward Democrats to silence critics down the road,” he said. “It didn’t work.”

According to the Obama super PAC, the Bain ads have aired in 11 media markets in five states where Obama and Romney are running neck and neck: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and Colorado.

After the ads first appeared in May, Republicans cried foul – and Democrats joined them, including some with Bain backing.

An early critic was Cory Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J. Booker called the ads “nauseating,” saying, “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity.” A Booker committee has received $102,000 from Bain donors, according to the records.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat who has received $24,000 from Bain donors, also objected, calling Bain “a perfectly fine company.”

Former President Clinton, who had worked for years to build ties between Democrats and Wall Street, also weighed in. Romney had a “sterling business career” as Bain Capital’s co-founder and CEO, he told CNN in May. Romney later used the language in a headline on his campaign website.

By June 1, Democratic backlash was so intense that The Washington Post predicted the ads would be pulled. But criticism from Democrats subsided once it became apparent that the ads were gaining traction.

After polling in the swing states, the bipartisan Purple Poll said Romney’s association with Bain had become “a classic wedge issue,” drawing Democrats to Obama while turning independents against Romney. 

In his speech at the Democratic National Convention last week, Vice President Joe Biden joined in the attacks on Romney and Bain, saying, “Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits. But it’s not the way to lead your country from its highest office.”

California Watch data analyst Coulter Jones contributed to this report.

How Bain gives


Other Democrats of note:

  • U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, $49,000
  • U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, $21,000
  • U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, $4,900
  • U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, $3,400

Other Republicans of note:

  • 2008 presidential nominee and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, $61,000
  • President George W. Bush, $43,000
  • Unsuccessful California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, $7,700
  • Former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, $1,000

Sources: Federal Election Commission, state elections websites, and

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Lance Williams is a former senior reporter for Reveal, focusing on money and politics. He has twice won journalism’s George Polk Award – for medical reporting while at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and for coverage of the BALCO sports steroid scandal while at the San Francisco Chronicle. With partner Mark Fainaru-Wada, Williams wrote the national bestseller “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.” In 2006, the reporting duo was held in contempt of court and threatened with 18 months in federal prison for refusing to testify about their confidential sources on the BALCO investigation. The subpoenas were later withdrawn. Williams’ reporting also has been honored with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award; the Gerald Loeb Award for financial reporting; and the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley. He also worked at the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune and the Daily Review in Hayward, California.