Monday, January 30, 2012

Salt Lake Olympics: Mitt as Product, Theater of the Absurd

The one thing that has made Mitt Romney "presidential" in the minds of the people is the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.  The story is that he rescued them from scandal. The reality is the opposite: the Olympics rescued Romney from obscurity and a failed political career, and he was installed only in 1999 when the Mormons already knew the Games would be a success.  Mitt was the product that was sold to the public, the "white knight" riding to the rescue of something that needed no rescue.  So ambitious was Mitt Romney that he actually made public comments asking for the conviction of the Salt Lake organizers for bribery. A corrupt Mormon judge threw the case out.  The Mormons were not about to be the fall guys for the bribery system that was prevalent under the old IOC dictator Juan Samaranch, intimate of Franco.  Why would the organizers allow Mitt Romney to take credit for their Olympics? In Mormondom, you do what the church tells you, and what the church wanted was credit for the inner circle of powerful Mormons...and in the future, a Mormon president.

Does that sound paranoid? Do the Mormons do such advance planning? Yes.  One example: in 1937 they bought land on an Oakland hilltop for $4,000.  Almost thirty years later, they built a temple there. They have been trying to get the Winter Olympics for decades, but because God's Church can never be seen to fail, they couldn't take over public responsibility until the Olympics were won, and likely to be a success, before they booted the expendable committee and could use the Olympics to promote  their own power and success.   

 The story was that the Games were mired in bribery scandal, sponsorship was off, and they were expecting a $400 million shortfall.   Two months after he was "hired," Mitt Romney fired the CFO for making "mistakes" on the budget.

Really? If  the SLOC had such a bad CFO why was his next job CFO of Mrs. Field's Cookies, one of Utah's premier companies?  Mitt fired him for overestimating federal funding, but federal funding was showered on the Salt Lake games, as one would expect under any administration, and in such great quantities that they grandstanded in announcing they would give $10 million back in April, 2002, none of that fundraising due to Romney but to Orrin Hatch and the rest of their Washington politicians.  As for the $25 million more needed in IT, expectations were rising rapidly at the time for sporting events, but on the other hand, IT prices were falling dramatically.  It is not clear they needed that much extra money.  Romney's contribution to budget cutting? $5 million to be taken from the costs for the bobsled and other facilities.  A cheaper hotel in Switzerland. Not exactly big bucks.  As for the $300 million "sponsor shortfall," this was so much nonsense as indicated in this article, which mentions US West "temporarily withheld" $5 million of the $60 million it had pledged to the Games.  The Games never had a real shortfall, it was just part of creating the bogus legend of Romney's "overcoming obstacles."

Federal money? For a much smaller winter games, Salt Lake got far more than Atlanta had received in '96.

They got $342 million in federal earmarks, and another $320 million in federal "security" after 9-11 (probably more like a billion, which would have been amounted to half the overall Games spending as noted in this article)

Few personnel were changed and Romney's role was mainly to publicize himself as uniquely honest and above board.  Such was Mitt-mania that they even made lapel pins with his photo on them, indicating that it was Mitt Romney, not just Gateway Computers, that was being sold by association with the Games.  He didn't accept the position of CEO of Bain Capital until he was given an "out" back to Bain Consulting if the venture failed.  Can anyone believe he accepted the position of Olympics CEO without first demanding some guarantees?   He did line up corporate sponsors, but they were mostly companies that had been "lined up" all along.  The IOC has been saying that they had more money from  fewer sponsors at Salt Lake than for any other Olympics, indicating that Romney was not the outreach wizard some would like to claim.   In the end he claimed he brought in $180 million in "new sponsors" but that hardly would have closed the shortfall if true and it included companies like Visa, which would not have conceivably sat out an Olympics. Conclusion: there was never a real shortfall and Utahns continued to give to the Olympics after they were done, which makes their "profit" figures highly suspect.

In April 2002, the Olympic Committee, having sloughed off many costs on government and private groups, announced a $40 million surplus, but by September they claimed $100 million because of "gifts organizers make or plan to make," probably meaning that Romney pledged his own money to make the Games seem profitable.  The question then becomes, how much of the $40 million original "profit" was Romney's money or money raised after the Closing Ceremonies to make the Games "profit" story?  Is that another reason he won't be releasing his tax returns for this period?

In short, the idea that the Games "made money" is almost certainly a bit of fakery.  Tax support for the Games was much higher than in any previous U.S. Olympics and the profit was ex post donations intended to boost Mitt Romney's career and the reputation of Salt Lake City and its signature church.

The Games cost more than the Atlanta Summer games, which had five times as many athletes.  And Clean Mitt or not, judging and other IOC scandals continued.

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