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Romney Strikes Back Against Bain, Tax Attacks


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we'll check in with one of the millions of people who've been laid off in recent years. Former newspaper writer, T.M. Shine, long - and I mean long - months of unemployment could have made him bitter, but he decided he'd want to make his life about something else. He wrote about this for the Washington Post magazine and he'll be with us in just a few minutes.

But, first, we want to check in on the campaign between President Barack Obama and Republican president candidate, Mitt Romney. No pun intended, but employment - theirs and other people's - a big part of it.

At center stage in the last several days is Mr. Romney's leadership of the private equity firm, Bain Capital, especially the question of whether Romney oversaw companies that outsourced American jobs. Obama campaign ads say Romney had a hand in sending jobs abroad as late as 2002, but Mr. Romney counters that he was not responsible for what happened at Bain or the companies it controlled after 1999 since he took a leave of absence to oversee to oversee the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Mr. Romney and his campaign have called for the president to apologize, but the president shows no sign of doing that. We wanted to get behind the back and forth, so we've called upon NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome back.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, I think it's worth mentioning that this line of attack against Mr. Romney started in the Republican primary. Former candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, among others, raised the question of Romney as corporate raider during the primary. They kind of introduced this concept of predatory capitalism, so I wanted to ask first, is there something new about what's being said now?

ELVING: Not fundamentally, perhaps, but there's been a great deal added since we first heard this from Newt Gingrich and some of the other rivals to Mitt Romney back last winter. They brought this up at a time when Mitt Romney seemed to be on cruise control towards the nomination and when he had been very highly successful at carpet bombing Newt Gingrich over Newt Gingrich's various problems. So Gingrich came back hot and heavy and said, you know, you're a wealthy guy and Bain Capital was very successful, but an awful lot of what you did doesn't look too good to the average American working person.

And this issue was then batted around in the conservative blogosphere and in the conversation, generally, and people more or less agreed that, within the Republican primary universe where people turn out to vote for Republican candidates exclusively, this particular argument did not have a lot of traction. Most of the Republican voters were not that upset with the idea that Bain Capital or Mitt Romney - if he was, in fact, at the head of Bain Capital - were outsourcing jobs, perhaps, or were pursuing certain kinds of tax strategy to minimize their exposure to taxes in the United. States.

MARTIN: Well, is there something new that's been added with the reporting since then?

ELVING: Yes. There's not only a different audience now. In other words, we're not just talking about Republican primary voters, but a larger group of people, Democrats and, of course, independents, the crucial fulcrum of the election, but there's also been a great deal more information brought forward by a variety of journalistic sources and, of course, by the opposition research of the White House itself and the president's campaign - including a challenge to Mitt Romney's basic flat statement that, after February of 1999, he had nothing further to do with running Bain Capital.

And among other things that have been brought forward are many, many, many documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission showing him listed through 2001 or '02 as the president, the Chief Executive Officer and the sole owner of Bain Capital.

Now, the explanation for that - and it's been brought forward by a number of people besides the Romney campaign - is that a lot of these documents get filled out and get filed and are technically required to put somebody's name down there, but that doesn't mean that he had day-to-day managerial control.

So we go on to some other journalism. Some of the journalism shows that he actually was also drawing some payment from Bain that was not related to his investments with Bain - appears to be for services rendered to Bain - after 1999. We also see him testifying to the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission when he wanted to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, that, while he had been running the Olympics out in Utah for two or three years, he'd been coming back to Massachusetts for a lot of business meetings. Well, were those all about the Olympics or possibly were they about this company of which he was president, CEO and still a stockholder?

MARTIN: So it's two issues here. One is, when was he really running Bain? When did he have actual operational control of Bain when these decisions were made and what those decisions were. Let me just play a little bit from one of the attack ads and you can just see how those arguments are kind of being tied together in a political argument. Let's hear a little bit.


MITT ROMNEY: (Singing) Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain. For purple mountains majesty above the fruited plains.

MARTIN: Now, that's obviously Mitt Romney. He's singing "America The Beautiful." We'll not comment on his tone or his performance, but what you can't see is that there are captions scrolling over that, saying, in business, "Mitt Romney's firm shipped jobs to Mexico and China," quoting the Los Angeles Times. Another caption reads, "as Governor, Romney outsourced jobs to India," quoting the Boston Globe, "he had millions in a Swiss bank account, tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands," quoting ABC News.

So, Ron, do we have an opinion about the truth or falsity of these claims?

ELVING: There is a great deal of question to be raised about how you look at some of these things, but I think the essential political question is a little bit different from the technical legal question. From a technical legal side, it is highly doubtful that Mitt Romney broke any laws. It is highly doubtful that he misrepresented himself or his company, in a technical sense, that would get him in trouble with the law.

Now, one of the things the Obama campaign has done that's been controversial is suggesting that, if in fact he had nothing to do with Bain, then the documents he filed with the SEC were misleading and perhaps even deceptive and perhaps felonious. That is, a felony, a breaking of the law. That pushes them out on some pretty thin ice and, on the basis of that, the Romney folks have tried to come back on defense and say, you're going too far with this. You really should be ashamed of yourself. It's beneath the dignity of the president and the White House and you should apologize. That's part of where the apology demand comes from, but it's not the whole story.

They're also upset about the entire allegation about outsourcing, which Romney says he didn't have anything to do with.

MARTIN: We're talking about conflicting portrayals of Mitt Romney's business career with NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. This has become a part of the political conversation, the contest - the expected contest - between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney this fall.

So let's turn from the tax on his business record, let's say, to this whole question of whether he should release his tax returns or not. He's released his 2010 returns, but has only delivered estimates for 2011. You know, on "Fox and Friends" today, he said he would - Mitt Romney said he'd put aside calls for him to release more documents, saying it would give the Obama campaign, quote, "more things to pick through, more things for their opposition research, to make a mountain out of - and to distort and to be dishonest about," unquote.

And I wanted to ask how effective an argument do you think this is?

ELVING: It might be an effective argument when talking to people who already are outraged at the way Mitt Romney is being treated by all of this, but it's hard to find it very persuasive for people who have questions they would like to have answered.

If the candidate says, I don't want to put out my tax returns because they would only give ammunition to my opponent, I think that makes us want to see those tax returns more. If he says they would only make a mountain out of this - and I believe he's probably referring to the old saw about making a mountain out of a molehill - he probably ought to say that and not say, if I put out my tax returns, there would be a mountain of other things for people to talk about in negative terms. That does not make me feel as though I have renewed confidence in him or that I have a sense of disapproval for those who are asking for those tax returns.

MARTIN: Well, OK. But, to that end, though - sure, Democrats are going to say, let's seem them, but are there any Republicans saying, let's see them?

ELVING: There are Republicans saying, not exactly that he ought to do this or that everyone ought to be obligated to be transparent about their finances running for president. They're not necessarily saying that. What they're saying is, if he doesn't do it now, it's going to hurt him politically. Some say he will have to do it eventually. That's become quite a common statement among Republicans.

And others are saying, well, he apparently doesn't want to do it and won't ever do it and maybe he can't do it for some specific reason and, if that's the case, well, then we really just need to come up with some other sort of a distraction. So - yes. There are many Republicans saying, we wish that this tax return secrecy would go away.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, we have about a minute left. One thing that is going well for the Romney campaign, I think, with that question is fundraising. It appears that the Romney Victory Fund raised $140 million, far from hitting its limits, and I wanted to ask whether - can the Democrats match that? You know, how are they doing? How is the money race?

ELVING: There are lots of different entities here. There's the victory campaigns. Each side has one. The Romney side has been more effective. In April, May and June, they raised about 75 percent of the amount that the combined campaign for Obama had been able to raise since the beginning of the cycle, so they're going much faster.

On the other hand, Obama's been the Democrat nominee, de facto, for a lot longer and they've had more time to raise money. It's clear that the president is going to raise and spend something in the neighborhood of eight, nine hundred - maybe a billion dollars. Eight or nine hundred million to a billion dollars. It's also clear he will be outspent because Romney and all of his allies, the Republican Committee and all theses PACs are going to spend more.

MARTIN: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor. He was kind enough to join us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Ron, thank you.

ELVING: My pleasure, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.