On his path to leadership in Massachusetts business and Republican politics, Robert A. Maginn Jr. made many of the same stops as Mitt Romney - from Harvard Business School to Bain & Co. to a campaign for statewide office.
Three years ago, he even followed Romney home. When Romney and his wife, Ann, downsized from their 6,400-square-foot Belmont house, it was Maginn and his family who moved in, acquiring it through a trust for $3.5 million, property and town records show.
So when Maginn emerged late last year as Romney’s pick to lead the Massachusetts Republican Party, activists grumbled that he would be less focused on party-building than on advancing Romney’s second run for president. “The reason we’ve seen party registration actually decline from levels we never thought could get any lower is because the party has not been a vehicle for reform,’’ said Republican analyst Todd Domke. “It’s been used by Romney, since he became governor, as his own vehicle.’’
Republicans, under Maginn’s leadership, delivered Romney a strong primary victory in his home state this week, but the election may have also emboldened Maginn’s critics. On Tuesday, Republicans overhauled their party leadership, electing some 30 new members to the state committee of 80, including conservatives who want to retool the party from the grass roots up.
In an election year characterized by voter resentment of the wealthy, some GOP critics see symbolic danger in Maginn - a chief executive who began tapping his personal wealth and his software company to raise contributions as party chairman. The company he leads, Jenzabar Inc., has become a leading source of GOP donations in Massachusetts and has hired several well-known Republicans as consultants.
In Massachusetts, the Republican Party is “often seen as the party for employers rather than employees,’’ Domke said. “To reinforce that stereotype by having the party dependent on a business makes the party a joke. The party is not meant to be a subsidiary of Jenzabar.’’
In two months under Maginn, the state party’s federal and state accounts raked in individual contributions of $234,260 - more than half from people with ties to Jenzabar, according to a review of finance records. Last year, during the same period, it raised $40,344, none from Jenzabar.
Jenzabar provides software that colleges can use for everything from student registration and e-learning to human resources and fund-raising. Jenzabar recently emerged as a major donor supporting Romney’s campaign for president, giving $250,000 to the Restore Our Future super PAC last year.
In January, Jenzabar also held a political fund-raiser for US Senator Scott Brown at its Prudential Center headquarters. The Globe recently reported that Jenzabar spent $30,000 renting a luxury suite at Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots playoff game against the Denver Broncos that drew Brown, his aides, and family members. Asked by the Globe about the stadium spending, the state Republican Party said it was a fund-raiser and that the party would reimburse Jenzabar $13,000 for tickets and food.
Campaigns or political parties are expected to cover the costs of fund-raisers, including paying for the use of space.
Jenzabar has also hired as consultants several former GOP operatives - including Peter Blute, the former congressman who left public service after a scandalous booze cruise. Blute agreed to serve as an unpaid deputy to Maginn at the party; he also contributed $20,000 to the state party, $5,000 to Brown, and $2,500 to Romney in recent months, state and federal campaign records show.
Although both said Blute’s responsibilities at Jenzabar were unrelated to party politics, the arrangement concerned activists; under state campaign finance law, it would be illegal for a corporation to pay for campaign work. Conservative activists, who were also upset to learn that Maginn had contributed to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick in 2010, called for him to resign just weeks after he took office.
But Maginn promised to try to get more rank-and-file Republicans elected in Massachusetts and he followed through with immediate support. The state party gave Republican legislators $32,500 in recent months, state records show, and Maginn personally gave them another $11,000. As a result, Maginn’s supporters see him as someone who can bolster the grass roots and offer crucial fund-raising.
“You really need somebody who can come in and raise the resources you need to be competitive and he seems to be doing really well at that,’’ said former GOP state senator Richard Tisei, who is now running for Congress. He harkened back to Ray Shamie, the millionaire businessman who self-funded his own campaigns and whose fund-raising helped rebuild the party in the late 1980s. “I think a lot of people are looking at Bob Maginn the same way.’’
Maginn, 55, is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Dayton before getting a master’s of liberal arts in government from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He did not respond to requests for interviews. Nor did a spokesman for Romney.
A self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian, Maginn made one foray into politics himself, running unsuccessfully for treasurer in 1998. That race featured a feisty debate, during which Democrat Shannon O’Brien derided Maginn, saying, “Calm down, Junior,’’ and Maginn ripped a camera from the hands of an O’Brien aide who was photographing him, according to news accounts.
He was national finance cochairman for Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008; but his fund-raising for Romney caused problems in 2002. Maginn and another Republican were fined by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance for secretly funding a $50,000 radio ad aimed at helping Romney in the final days of his race for governor. That ad was wrongly credited to a Washington interest group.
Like Romney, Maginn was once a partner at Bain & Co., where he met Ling Chai, who would become his second wife.
Chai was one of the leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China and has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Chai founded Jenzabar, which means “the class of the best and the brightest’’ in Mandarin, Jenzabar’s website says.
Politics has long been part of business at Jenzabar. Soon after Maginn became chief executive, he hired outgoing treasurer Joseph Malone and tapped as legal counsel the law firm of former governor William F. Weld.
Jenzabar, which serves some 700 college campuses worldwide, built up its product portfolio by buying other companies.
The company has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits, including a trademark infringement claim against documentary filmmakers who cast an unflattering portrayal of Chai in Tiananmen Square and whose website can be found by searching for Jenzabar online.
Last week, one of Jenzabar’s major investors reached a settlement in another lawsuit, withdrawing its investment in Jenzabar for an undisclosed sum as it cuts its own payroll. MCG Capital had sued Jenzabar claiming it should have had consent rights over raises and retroactive bonuses awarded to Chai and Maginn in 2008, including an $800,000 bonus they claimed collectively and a $750,000 bonus Maginn said was promised but overlooked in 2002, court records show.
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.