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Leading universities have profited from Bain’s expertise. According to Infrastructure Investor, Bain Capital Ventures Fund I (launched in 2001) managed wealth for “endowments and foundations such as Columbia, Princeton and Yale universities.” The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman noted July 18 that Harvard “has also invested with Bain.”

Thus, Michelle and Barack Obama’s undergraduate campuses (Princeton and Columbia, respectively) and the university where they earned their law degrees (Harvard) all have enjoyed Bain Capital’s financial prowess.

According to Buyouts magazine and S&P Capital IQ, Bain’s other college clients have included Cornell, Emory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh. Preqin reports that the following schools placed at least $424.6 million with Bain Capital between 1998 and 2008:

Purdue University ($15.9 million).

University of California ($225.7 million).

University of Michigan ($130 million).

University of Virginia ($20 million).

University of Washington ($33 million).

Major center-left foundations and cultural establishments also have seen their prospects brighten thanks to Bain Capital. According to the aforementioned sources, such Bain clients have included the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ford Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation.

Why on earth would government-union leaders, university presidents and foundation chiefs let a company with Bain Capital’s reputation oversee their precious assets?

“The scrutiny generated by a heated election year matters less than the performance the portfolio generates to the fund,” California State Teachers’ Retirement System spokesman Ricardo Duran said Aug. 12 in the Boston Globe. CalSTRS has pumped some $1.25 billion into Bain. Since 1988, Mr. Duran said, private-equity companies like Bain have outperformed every other asset class to which CalSTRS has allocated the cash of its 856,360 largely unionized members.

What really is Bain’s reputation? Is it a gang of corporate buccaneers who plundered their ill-gotten gains by outsourcing, euthanizing feeble portfolio companies and giving cancer to the spouses of those whom they fired? If so, union bosses, government retirees, liberal foundations and top-flight universities — including the Obamas — thrive on the wages of Bain’s economic Darwinism.

If, however, those institutions relish the yields that Bain Capital generates by supporting startups and rescuing distressed companies, 80 percent of which have prospered, then this money is honest — and Team Obama isn’t.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.