Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Romney Campaign: hiding riches and playing dirty

In Jan 1994, when he was running against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, Mitt Romney said  “The blind trust is an age-old ruse.” The blind trust is an instrument where a candidate puts all his wealth in a trust operated an independent third party so that he cannot be accused of conflict of interest because of his investments. The trust operator is supposed to make investment decisions without consulting the candidate on issues of risk and expected returns.  Romney subsequently put his own money into a blind trust and refuses to answer questions about his own investments, even when they appeared to be unpatriotic, like his investment in Chinese and Russian oil companies doing business with Iran in 2006, contrary to his stated position on Iran in the presidential campaign of 2007-2008.  But it appears that his “blind trust” may be nothing more than a ruse after all.  This independent body by some miracle managed to invest in his son’s charity, which means his trust isn’t really blind at all and he can be held responsible for all its investments and possible conflicts of interest they involve.

The question remains, how rich is Romney? In 2007, Money magazine estimated his wealth at $202 million, with an INCOME of $37.6 million, a very unusual income level for a man who was not working and in an era of very low interest rates, an abnormally high “return” on his money. His election filings say he is worth $85-$264 million, which means either he has lost most of his money since 2007 (no great businessman there!), or he has only made a little on it, or his election filings are not comprehensive.   Most likely the $200 million figure is ridiculously low, and his personal fortune is more accurately measured in billions, not millions. 

Romney does have billionaire friends, like his advisor Paul Singer, who has darkly warned the BBC that he “has a file” on investigative reporter Greg Palast, who is doing a Wall Street expose called “Vulture’s Picnic” naming Singer and Romney and highlighting things like Singer’s rape of the Peruvian economy.

Meanwhile, the Romney team has pulled off a p.r. dream.  Polls show the race in South Carolina tightening as a result of Gingrich’s attack ads on Romney.  So the Romney team got Reuters to publish a story about a poll that predated those attacks claiming his lead had actually widened and Gingrich’s attacks had no effect. You have to read most the way through the article to find that the poll was actually taken January 10, before the Gingrich ad. The idea is to confuse Republican voters into voting for Romney by thinking that the whole “destroying jobs” thing has somehow gone away.  In the meantime Romney is running email trees and so on claiming “factual inaccuracies” in the report, basically claiming Romney hasn’t worked with Bain since 1999 and has no responsibility for anything that has happened (although of course his wealth is still derived from their profits).  The Gingrich people are frustrated about responding to since Romney signed many of the documents and he derives personal income from Bain Capital's operations.    There is one certainty in all this: Romney has learned to play hardball politics and this will be the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign in history.

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