Mitt Romney's record of charitable giving reflects more than generosity. For a Republican presidential nominee who has struggled to be seen as right-wing enough for the GOP, he has deployed the right checks to the right places to help build his conservative credibility. And while many of those donations are not controversial, others have included checks to the religious right and an established anti-gay group.
The Romneys, of course, have been hugely generous to many causes -- most of them nonpolitical -- through their Tyler Charitable Foundation, and through their own personal checkbook. For more than a decade, their foundation has given millions to their church, along with health care charities, humanitarian causes, education and social groups.
But starting at the end of 2005, around the time Romney was gearing up for his first presidential run, the Romneys' foundation started giving to highly conservative organizations.
Since then, the Tyler Charitable Foundation has given at least $260,000 to GOP causes and influential conservative groups, including a gift of $100,000 to the Friends of George W. Bush Presidential Library in 2010.
As recently as this week, GOP hardliners have questioned Romney's conservative bona fides. But through his foundation's giving, it appears that Romney has tried to align himself with more squarely with conservative groups. There is nothing to suggest that the gifts were anything other than donations, but they underscore Romney’s own transformation from a moderate to a conservative Republican.
Some of his gifts have been partisan, but the foundation passes the legal sniff test, said Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, a watchdog group. There is no evidence of self-dealing, Borochoff said, and the foundation's giving record is well above the law’s requirement for payouts.
Celebrities often set up charitable arms, such as foundations, as a way to channel their wealth and build good will. The Romneys are no different.
In 2005, the Romneys made a $25,000 donation to conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, which includes among its trustees Steve Forbes. The same year, the foundation gave $25,000 to The Federalist Society, another conservative think tank. Romney gave to both organizations in 2006 as well, the Boston Globe reported.
In 2006, the foundation also gave $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute, which promotes programs to “pray away the gay” and argues that sexual orientation is a choice that can be be cured, Mother Jones reported.
In 2008 the foundation gave $25,000 to The Becket Fund, a conservative religious rights group that has filed several lawsuits against President Barack Obama over birth control mandates. The Romneys' foundation also has given to conservative political interest groups in Massachusetts over the years, the Boston Globe reported.
The foundation made several gifts, including one of $5,000 in 2010, to the Best Friends Foundation, which promotes sexual abstinence in teens and was founded by the wife of William Bennet, a conservative who has made controversial remarks about abortion. It's also a favorite charity of Fox News' Bill O’Reilly.
The foundation's 2011 tax returns have not yet been filed.
The Romneys have been the sole donors of more than $10 million over the years to their foundation, using their charitable contributions to help lower their tax bill.
The Romneys created the foundation back in 1993, but it was largely inactive until 1999, when the couple moved more than $3.6 million in tech stocks to the foundation, the Boston Globe has reported. The following year, the Romneys renamed the foundation the Tyler Charitable Foundation, for the street they lived on in Belmont, Mass. Since 2000, the Romenys have actively used the foundation to give money to their causes.
Last year, the Romneys reported giving about $1.5 million to their foundation. In 2010, Mitt Romney moved stock from two companies from his personal account to the foundation, saving himself hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, The Huffington Post reported.
Setting up a private foundation is common way for wealthy individuals to manage their charitable giving and reap tax benefits. By law, a private foundation usually must pay out at least 5 percent of its assets each year. The majority of private foundations pay out 5 percent to 6 percent of their assets, according to the Foundation Center. The Romneys' foundation pays out about 6.5 percent of its assets.
The foundation represents only a portion of the Romneys charitable giving. According to the Republican nominee's tax records, the Romneys gave nearly 30 percent of their income in 2011 to charity, with the largest portion going directly to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.