Friday, July 13, 2012

The Bain of Mitt’s Existence

Republican Mitt Romney’s troubles related to his history with Bain Capital have practically exploded overnight. That’s thanks in large part to The Boston Globe’s excellent reporting yesterday, which revealed that Romney “remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time.
Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the [2002] Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.”

Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain “executive” in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.
Why are these discrepancies deemed significant? Why, for instance, does The Maddow Blog’s Steve Benen say that “this has the potential to do some very serious damage to Romney’s candidacy” for president of the United States? Benen explains:
[T]he underlying point is why Romney wants people to believe he left Bain earlier than the apparent, documented date. On this, there’s no great mystery: Romney doesn’t want to be on the hook for a series of controversial Bain investments, layoffs, and bankruptcies that Bain oversaw after February 1999.

In other words, Romney isn’t just accused of lying about a superficial clerical matter; he’s accused of lying to avoid responsibility for his business’ actions on his watch.

The Romney defense is that he was technically Bain’s chief after February 1999, but he wasn’t really involved with the company anymore. He was, as the
New York Times described it the other day, “an absentee owner” who “left day-to-day management” to others.

But all of the new details make this defense hard to believe. This week’s reporting suggests Romney was actively involved with running Bain Capital and overseeing its operations well after the point at which he claims to have departed from the firm.

What’s more, we’re looking at a larger story that’s starting to snowball. Romney is now burdened by unexplained offshore finances, hidden tax returns, dubious disclosures, controversial investments, unanswered questions about his individual retirement account that somehow ended up with more than $100 million, and claims about his business that contradict SEC filings.
Romney has made trouble for himself with his obfuscations about when, precisely, he left Bain and its predatory business practices behind. “Back in 2002 when he was running for Governor of Massachusetts,” Politicker notes, “Mitt Romney and his aides had no problem admitting he retained his position as CEO of Bain Capital after 1999.” Yet he’s now making quite different claims, and even demanding an apology from President Barack Obama for repeating the very information Romney and his staff supplied during his gubernatorial campaign. Further confusing things, in an effort to stanch the bleeding caused by this mounting scandal, Romney took to the national airwaves today and contradicted his sworn testimony from nine years ago about his Bain tenure.

As the Bain story continues to unravel, Romney not only faces negative publicity from the time-tested Obama campaign and new revelations from serious media sources, but his vacillations worry Tea Party wingers and other Republicans who were already suspicious of his electability and ideological reliability. Unwilling or unable to create a clear narrative about his own history as a super-wealthy Mormon with overseas financial accounts, he has allowed his opponents to portray him--not without justification--as a serial liar and inveterate flip-flopper, who has trouble connecting with mainstream Americans. His unwillingness to release more than one or two years of his tax returns (while Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have already made public 12 years of their own such returns), combined now with Romney’s bobbing and weaving on questions surrounding his Bain past, only further erode trust in him as a leader and faith in his personal character.

No wonder Republican strategists are sounding concerned about Romney’s campaign clumsiness. They look back and wonder whether the presumptive nominee wasn’t sufficiently vetted during this year’s GOP primary race. They look ahead and wonder whether he can maintain appeal beyond the extreme right-wing base of Obama haters, particularly as he’s forced to answer questions about subjects other than the economy--such as his support of plans to undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and his determination to do away with the Affordable Care Act, legislation that is already benefiting millions of Americans and helping to control the skyrocketing costs of health care.

“Mitt Romney had an opportunity to answer these questions during the primary,” remarks Rick Tyler, who operated a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC that targeted Romney on the Bain issue earlier this year. “He did not answer these questions and now they’re coming up again.”

With a vengeance.

READ MORE:Obama Demands Real Answers from Romney About Bain,” by Jason Easley (PoliticusUSA); “Video: Romney Paid as a Do-nothing President at Bain?” (The Rachel Maddow Show); “Feeling the Bain: The Romney Ill Will Tour,” by Adele Stan (Washington Monthly); “Obama Slams Romney on Outsourcing Again” (Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire); “No Bain, No Gain,” by Paul Krugman (The New York Times); “Mitt Romney on Defense in Battle Over What’s in His Heart,” by Jon Ward (The Huffington Post).

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