A Massachusetts group that worked with Mitt Romney during his governorship is clarifying its role in the Republican presidential nominee's appointment of women to senior state Cabinet positions. 

"[W]e took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our Cabinet," Romney said in the town hall. "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women."

The nonpartisan Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus says in a statement that it instigated the process of bringing more women into state government before Romney took office -- and that Romney fell off in appointing women to senior positions later in his term. 

"The incoming Romney administration worked with MassGAP to find the best qualified women for top positions in Massachusetts government," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. "The efforts resulted in Massachusetts having the most women in top positions in the entire country."

In an interview with National Review Wednesday, Romney's former lieutenant governor said the Republican searched for women appointees beyond the ones recommended by the MassGAP project. But she confirmed that the "binders" in question came from MassGAP. 

“During the transition, he reached out to his business contacts, he reached out to the folks who had worked on the campaign through the transition to ask for their recommendations, and he also reached out to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus that had been out there reaching out to women’s organizations on a bipartisan basis," Healey said. "So he had a number of sources that he drew on, and the now-famous binders that came up in the debate last night were ones that were provided through the Massachusetts Women’s political caucus as part of the MassGap project."

 MassGAP applauded Romney in 2006 for increasing female appointments to state government. "I think he put more terrific women into high-level jobs because of our project," chairwoman Liz Levin said.

President Obama has faced scrutiny over the role of women in the White House early in his term, and high-level female aides complained directly to the president that male colleagues enjoyed greater access to him and often muscled them out of key policy discussions.

Both Romney and Obama focused intensely on women voters in the town hall debate.

The full statement: 

At the presidential debate last night, questions arose regarding how women candidates were identified for potential appointment to leadership roles by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. What follows details the process that was created by the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus in 2002 to maximize opportunities for women to be considered for key roles in Massachusetts government.

The Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) was founded under the leadership of the MA Women’s Political Caucus in 2002 to address the issue of the under-representation of women in appointed positions in Massachusetts government.MassGAP brought together a nonpartisan coalition of over 25 women's organizations to recruit women to apply for government positions within the administration, and recommend qualified women for those positions.

Prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, MassGAP approached the campaigns of candidates Shannon O'Brien and  Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to: (1).“Make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate to the population of women in Massachusetts; (2). Select a transition team whose composition is proportionate to the women in the Commonwealth; and (3). Meet with MassGAP representatives regularly during the appointments process.  Both campaigns made a commitment to this process.

Following the election, MassGAP formed committees for each cabinet post in the administration and began the process of recruiting, interviewing, and vetting women applicants. Those committees selected top applicants for each position and presented this information to the administration for follow-up interviews and consideration for appointment.

Prior to the 2002 election, women comprised approximately 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government. By 2004, 42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration were women. Subsequently, however, from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly-appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent.

MassGAP is proud to have the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus as our lead sponsor and we are grateful to all of the women who have devoted their time and energy to making this project a continued success. The Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1971 to increase the number of women elected and appointed to public office and public policy positions and to maximize the participation of women of all ages in the political process.

About the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project:

The Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) was founded in 2002 as a non-partisan coalition of women’s groups whose purpose is to increase the number of women appointed by the new governor to senior-level cabinet positions, agency heads and selected authorities and commissions in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (MWPC) is the Lead Sponsor of this coalition. The current MassGAP co-chairs are Amy Burke and Lauren Stiller Rikleen.