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Mass. donations to Romney down from last campaign

Fund-raising remains stable nationally

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / October 24, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney, who relied heavily on Massachusetts residents to finance his first presidential campaign, has seen contributions from his home state tumble by nearly one-third this time, a decline attributed to the candidate’s shift in focus as well as waning allegiances to him.

During the first six months of his 2012 campaign, Romney has raised $2.1 million from donors living in Massachusetts, far less than the $3 million that Bay State residents gave over a similar period to his 2008 campaign, according to a Globe tally of federal campaign records. His overall numbers remain stable nationally.

“I think four years later he’s less connected to Massachusetts,’’ said Rob Gray, a Massachusetts-based Republican consultant who was a senior adviser to Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial race but worked for Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. “You get the out-of-sight, out-of-mind factor. The last time around, he’d just been the governor, so your local fund-raising network tends to be a little more robust.’’

During the 2008 campaign, Romney used the Bay State to launch his fund-raising operation - staging a national call day at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center just four days after leaving the governor’s office - and Massachusetts was the third-most lucrative state for him, after California and Utah.

Now, he has a much longer reach, and Massachusetts lags behind California, New York, Texas, and Florida among states most favorable for him. When he staged a fund-raising call day this year, it was held 2,700 miles from Boston, at a conference center in Las Vegas.

“It’s a much broader campaign,’’ said Ron Kaufman, a top Romney adviser. “Last time it was in many ways Massachusetts-centric.’’

Kaufman and other Romney campaign advisers also attribute the decline to a downturn in the economy - even though his fund-raising has not dropped off as much nationally and the Massachusetts economy remains stronger than some states where Romney has picked up his pace.

“The recession has something to do with all the numbers everywhere,’’ said Kaufman, who is also a Republican National Committee member from Massachusetts. “We found people can’t give as much and can’t raise as much because their networks are smaller or poorer.’’

One of Romney’s chief rivals, Rick Perry, raised more than half of his $17 million from his home state of Texas, which is geographically larger and richer with Republican money than Massachusetts. Of the $34 million Romney has raised over six months, about 6 percent has come from Massachusetts. Romney has had several fund-raisers in Massachusetts this year, including one last month. He took in donations from 2,410 Massachusetts contributors during the first six months of his 2008 campaign, while only 1,620 have given to his campaign this year.

The change can be seen through top Massachusetts donors such as John Fish, the president of Suffolk Construction. During the last campaign, Fish helped raise money for Romney. When he lost the nomination, Fish raised money for President Obama’s campaign.

For now, he’s sitting on the sidelines, frustrated by both.

“Romney’s brand I think has been tarnished in Massachusetts because of some of the flip-flopping on the issues,’’ Fish said. “It’s the chameleon mentality.’’

Fish is also aggravated by Obama - saying he has not proved to be an effective leader - and has not decided whether he will raise money for either candidate in 2012. Romney is also having to compete for dollars with Senator Scott Brown, who is expected to have a tough reelection fight and has been trying to raise money in Massachusetts and elsewhere using several consultants who overlap with Romney’s campaign.

Andrew Balson, a managing director at Bain Capital, the venture capital firm that Romney cofounded, gave Romney the maximum contribution during his 2008 race. But this year he has yet to donate, even while he has contributed maximum donations to Brown’s reelection, as well as $2,600 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Balson did not return messages seeking comment.

Massachusetts has never been a bastion of Republican money, with presidential candidates spending far more time in such areas as Florida and New York. Still, Romney came into the 2012 race with a well-developed network in the Bay State, having raised money for three campaigns: a US senate race in 1994, the governor’s race in 2002, and his 2008 presidential bid.

Among those on his Massachusetts finance committee are Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor, who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006; Michael Sullivan, former US attorney; and GOP fund-raiser Chris Collins.

They all declined to comment. Romney’s national finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, did not return messages seeking comment.

Romney did get donations from a range of prominent Bay State residents. Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics general manager, philanthropist David G. Mugar, and former Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker donated the maximum $2,500 contribution.

For the analysis, the Globe looked at the first six months of fund-raising for each campaign. In 2007, that period covered January through June. In 2011, when he started later, it covered April through September.

His fund-raising increased in several communities - including Dedham, Hopkinton, and Southborough - but it dropped off steeply throughout many of Boston’s wealthy western suburbs, where Romney reaped much of his contributions four years ago.

Donations from his hometown, Belmont, dropped by half, from about $166,000 four years ago to about $88,000 now. In Boston, the top city during both campaigns, donations were down 35 percent, with about $337,000 coming into his coffers this year.

Romney’s fund-raising network could also be choosing to donate more to Restore Our Future, a political action committee that supports Romney. The so-called super PAC can accept donations that are not subject to the $2,500 contribution limits on candidates’ campaigns.

Steve Roche, former Romney finance aide who has long ties in Massachusetts Republican politics, is helping the pro-Romney group raise money, but because the group does not have to file its next federal reports until next year, it is impossible to know how much of its money is coming from Massachusetts residents.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.