Mitt Romney's presidential campaign was buffeted by news reports on Thursday — most prominently from The Boston Globe — which said that despite Romney's repeated insistence that he left private equity firm Bain Capital in February 1999, he was actually listed in SEC and Massachusetts legal filings as its "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president" until 2002, pulling in an "executive" salary of at least $100,000 a year. Team Romney points to a report in Fortune, among other sources, to back up its assertion that Romney didn't actively manage Bain's investments after 1999, but even Republicans are getting nervous about Romney's Bain baggage. Why does it matter if Romney was running or just "running" Bain for three years, a decade ago? Here, six ways this new Bain flap could hurt Romney:
1. This makes Romney look dishonest
The big reason this Bain story matters is that it's "one more big lie for Romney," says Martin Longman at Booman Tribune. Either he's "been lying about having no control of Bain's decisions in 1999-2002," or Bain has been lying to regulators and investors. Romney's way of squaring that circle, giving "increasingly tortured explanations of the definition of 'CEO,'" just makes him look "increasingly weaselly," says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Politically, claiming that "he was only technically CEO and isn't responsible for what happened during his technical CEO-ship" looks like "a Mafia don taking the Fifth."
2. And it ruins his big push to label Obama a liar
"The Romney campaign has truly awful timing," says Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog. Team Obama has been hitting Romney for weeks about Bain and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs, and Romney picked Thursday morning — just as The Boston Globe's "bombshell" about Romney's Bain lies hit the stands — to punch back hard with a TV "ad that effectively (and ironically) accuses the president of being a big liar." It's hard to say if Romney's counterpunch would have landed on a different day, but it certainly didn't when questions about his own truthfulness dominated the political media.
3. The whole Bain selling point takes another hit
The crux of this fight is Romney's repeated insistence that he left Bain in February 1999, and "there's no great mystery" about why, says The Maddow Blog's Benen. He's made his business experience his major selling point, and he "doesn't want to be on the hook for a series of controversial Bain investments, layoffs, and bankruptcies that Bain oversaw after" that point. The problem with Romney's pushback is that "things are reaching the point where the facts don't really matter," says Ginger Gibson at Politico. "The Bain cloud now hanging over the former Massachusetts governor is growing daily, and the Romney campaign still hasn't found a compelling way to respond."
4. Lying to the SEC could be a federal felony
FactCheck.org has generally taken Romney's side in this fight, says David Edwards at The Raw Story, but in defending Romney's contention that he can't be held responsible for post-1999 Bain-linked bankruptcies and outsourcing, the fact-checkers "may have accidentally revealed that the GOP candidate committed a 'federal felony.'" It would amount to perjury if Romney had wrongly certified on "federal financial disclosure forms that he left active management of Bain Capital in February 1999," FactCheck.org said July 2. Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer and Romney adviser Matt McDonald offered, unsurprisingly, opposing views Thursday on whether Romney might be in legal trouble.
5. It can also open Romney up to lawsuits
Whether or not Romney could be charged with a federal felony, he might have opened himself up to legal action from Bain investors, former SEC Commissioner Roberta Karmel tells The Boston Globe. Bain told the SEC that Romney was CEO and sole shareholder, so "are you telling me he owned the company but had no say in its investments?" It wouldn't look that way to someone who "invested with Bain Capital because they believed Mitt Romney was a great fund manager." This kind of potential "misrepresentation to the investor... could be used in a lawsuit against him."
6. This is yet another reminder of Romney's wealth
If Team Romney wants to win this fight, the burden of proof is now on its side, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Even then, "this is a lose-lose for Romney." He's lost yet another day of the campaign to chatter about his vast wealth rather than Obama's economic record, "and even the best case in defense of Romney must argue that he got paid at least $100,000 a year for doing nothing." That will have a lot of Americans wondering "how the rules they live by simply don't apply to people with Romney's massive wealth."