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Romneys listed as big givers to charity

Nearly $2.9m donated since '99

Governor Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, have donated nearly $2.9 million to more than 40 healthcare groups, schools, and other charitable organizations since 1999, including $2.2 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Globe review of Internal Revenue Service documents shows.

The couple's private charitable foundation donated primarily to groups in Massachusetts and Utah, where they lived while Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics. The foundation stepped up giving to groups based in Massachusetts after Romney was elected governor in 2002.

His contributions to the Mormon church, where he has long been active, are by far the largest. The foundation gave $1.9 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2003, the first year Romney was governor, and $311,000 more in 2000 and 2001. The foundation donated $250,000 to the Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University of Provo, Utah, including $50,000 in 2004.

But Romney, a multimillionaire who is considering a run for president in 2008, was also quite generous to groups in Massachusetts. He gave $1,000 in 2003 to a small library fund in Gloucester, $10,000 last year to the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, $2,500 to Boston's Ten Point Coalition, and $50,000 to Harvard Business School, where he graduated after earning his undergraduate degree from BYU. In 2004, 14 of 23 groups that received money from the couple's foundation were based in the Bay State.

The IRS documents are public records. A Romney spokesman said the Belmont couple also make other private donations, from their private accounts, through a charitable trust the family created in 1996 or through the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, which does not disclose the giving of its investors.

''The governor is very active in his support of civic, religious, and social service organizations, but he doesn't do it for public acclaim," Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom said. ''There are certain aspects of his charitable giving that are public, but the majority of it is conducted privately, and he prefers to keep it private."

In a gubernatorial debate in 2002, Romney, the former Massachusetts lay bishop for the Mormon Church, said he gave 13 percent of his annual gross income to charity. Mormons have a practice of tithing, giving 10 percent of their income to the church.

Romney was born into a home that prized volunteerism and charity. His father, George W. Romney, an automobile executive and governor of Michigan who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968, founded in 1974 the National Volunteer Center, one of the country's largest volunteer organizations.

A Mormon missionary in his early adulthood, Romney got serious about charity after amassing substantial personal wealth at Bain Capital, the venture firm that he founded. At Bain Capital, Romney in 1997 created and then served as president of the Bain Capital Children's Charity Ltd., which spends more than $1 million annually on youth-related causes, IRS records indicate. Romney also served for many years on the board of City Year, a Boston-based organization that promotes community service.

Aside from the Bain charity, Romney gave $1 million to Brigham Young University in 1998 to create the George W. Romney Institute for Public Management. The Globe reported that donation in 2002.

Romney recently named his wife as the state's liaison to help faith-based and charitable groups in Massachusetts attract federal funding. Ann Romney helped found United Way Faith and Action, and works closely with Boston's Ten Point Coalition and other groups that promote safety and better opportunities for urban youths.

The Romneys established the Ann D. and Mitt Romney Charitable Foundation in 1993, as Romney was preparing to take on US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The fund, however, was relatively inactive until 1999, when the Romneys pumped more than $3.6 million in high-tech stocks into it. It has been renamed the Tyler Charitable Foundation.

On his first day as Massachusetts governor, he served breakfast at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. Stephen Cunniff, development coordinator for the organization, recalled thinking he'd never hear from Romney again after Inauguration Day, but was delighted to receive $10,000 from the Romney foundation after local news stories about the facility's inability to pay its energy bills.

''That's definitely a leadership gift for us," Cunniff said. ''Most of our gifts come in the form of 10s and 20s."

One of the recipients of the Romneys' charity, the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, has drawn fire for producing graphic educational pamphlets depicting sadomasochistic acts by gay couples.

Romney denounced the distribution of one of the group's booklets at Brookline High School earlier this year, saying ''graphic pornographic material on the gay lifestyle" should not be available in public schools.

Regarding the donations to the AIDS Action Committee, Fehrnstrom said, ''The AIDS Action Committee is the largest AIDS service organization in Massachusetts, and the governor's donation is meant to support prevention and treatment of this disease."

In 2003, the Romneys gave $2,500 to the Best Friends Foundation, a Washington-based group that promotes sexual abstinence among teens. They also donated $2,500 that year to Community Servings, a Boston-based charity that delivers meals to homebound AIDS patients.

Some of the recipients of the Romneys' largesse are quite obscure. For instance, the foundation sent a $1,000 check to the Constance T. Rhinelander Children's Performance Fund, at the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library. Carol Gray, the library's acting director, said she was happy to accept the donation, but she cannot recall Romney visiting the library. ''I wish he would," she said. ''We're in a terrible state of disrepair."

In addition to the Massachusetts-based donations, since 1999 the foundation has sent at least $65,000 to charities in Utah and groups not affiliated with the Mormon Church, including $50,000 to Weber State University in 2001 and $5,000 to Utah Youth Village in 2002.

It's unclear what role, if any, Romney's record of giving would play in his putative presidential run. Bill Clinton was excoriated in the media when the Washington Post revealed that he'd taken tax deductions in the 1980s for donating his used underwear to charity. In 1998, Vice President Al Gore was taken to task for making just $353 in charitable donations the year before.

In Massachusetts, the 1996 US Senate contest between John F. Kerry and Governor William F. Weld included a brief controversy around Kerry's 1995 tax returns, which revealed that he'd given no money to charity, as opposed to Weld, who'd given about $24,000.

''They don't get much credit [for charitable giving] when they're rich, and most of them are," said Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Referring to Romney's largesse, Hess said, ''I think that's something that would speak well of him, particularly if The Boston Globe has to dig it up. [But] it turns out that the history has been charity can hurt you."

Globe correspondent Chase Davis contributed to this report. Raphael Lewis can be reached at

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