For the past two days, the political talking heads on television have been discussing Mitt Romney’s involvement with Bain Capital ad nauseum. They are focusing on when exactly Romney left Bain – before or after they started out-sourcing jobs in the companies they bought out.
Here are the facts: According to Romney, and a disclosure statement he filed with the State of Massachusetts, he left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. According to the SEC, he held total ownership of Bain until 2002. According to a news release by Bain itself about Romney leaving for the Olympics, he would continue to be closely involved in the company’s operations.
Fact: It is a felony to misrepresent the management or ownership of a company on SEC filings. Romney insisted in today’s interviews that he left Bain in 1999 and had no involvement with the running of the company. If his narrative is truthful, he lied on the SEC filings and committed a felony. If the SEC filings are accurate, he’s been lying about his involvement in Bain for eight years.
Fact: Romney has money parked in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland and investments in companies that have taken American jobs overseas. According to Romney, he has no control over where his money is or how it is invested.
The timeline is interesting, but not critical. The critical part should be Romney’s statement that he has no idea where his money is and he had no input into the operation of Bain Capital.
How does one own a company for three years, own all of the stock in that company, and not be involved in any aspect of its operation? It’s a much more common situation than most of us lowly humans are conscious of.
A few months ago, the New York Sunday Times Magazine ran an interview with Allice Walton, one of the children and heirs of WalMart founder Sam Walton. The interview mostly concerned the museum Ms. Walton was building in Arkansas. Part of it was conducted at a horse competition where she was using her cell phone on horseback to bid on works of art. Ms. Walton dismissed questions about WalMart’s business model, laughing about how WalMart gets blamed for everything wrong in the economy, and made it clear she has almost no input into the operation of the company that provides her with a net worth of over $20 billion dollars. Family owned companies like WalMart hire people to run them, but there is something disturbing about the idea that the people who own the company have little or no interest in how it is run.
Someone once described the difference between Democratic and Republican presidents as the difference between micromanagers and macrosupervisors. Democratic presidents tend to know every little detail of what is going on, while Republicans delegate and expect somebody else to do the work. Our last president was famous for demanding that the daily reports that were given to him for various aspects of the government be reduced to less than two pages. The lowliest British sub-under-secretary reviews more documents than that in his daily dispatch box.
What Mitt Romney is asking us to believe is that the man who claims his business past qualifies him for the presidency allowed his company to be run by others and allows his money to be handled by others with absolutely no review of the operation of either. That is an invitation to corruption and embezzlement by those he trusted and trusts to handle his money. He is saying he is so unconcerned about his own millions that someone could park a few in a Swiss bank and he wouldn’t know it was there or when it was transferred to other accounts.
It is the law that elected officials must put their personal investments into blind trusts while in office. But it has been a long time since Mitt was in office, and he is not in office now. Keeping the blind trust was unnecessary except to allow his financial managers to put his money in places it shouldn’t be and give him “plausible deniability.”
The revelations about his Bain ownership and his blind trust should be leading to the important questions, and those are about his idea of management. Will he be as willing to cede responsibility for running the country to subordinates the way he left Bain and has left his money? Do we really want a President who can’t be bothered to read reports at all, not even ones of less than two pages?
There is a difference, totally lost on the Republicans these days, between explaining the source of a crisis (i.e. it’s Bush’s tax cut, the economy wasn’t done spiraling for eight months) and setting oneself up to be able to play innocent and blame others for gross failures. At least when Ronald Reagan testified that he didn’t remember events surrounding the Iran-Contra scandal, there’s a possibility he really didn’t, not that he set it up that way.