The Romney camp's creative accounting techniques are a specialty. Consider the super PAC Restore Our Future, supposedly independent, but run by former Romney aides.
Most believe President Obama will raise a billion dollars or even more for his re-election bid. The Republican nominee may also raise and spend a billion. If it turns out to be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, it may be a tad easier than for the others. Back in 2007, The New York Times estimated his worth at nearly $350 million, and he plowed a reported $44.5 million of his own money into his 2008 presidential campaign.
As he scurries to the right, running away from his moderate record as Massachusetts governor (although there’s no escaping the irony of reports that the state’s upgrade to an AA rating from Standard & Poor’s during his tenure was achieved, in part, through tax hikes), it’s illuminating to remember not only how Romney amassed his personal fortune but also how the fundraising apparatus surrounding him probes for yet more ways to scam the system. Not content with the freewheeling liberties already granted by the courts, his money machine relentlessly pursues ever more insidious routes to the fattest wallets and checkbooks.
Romney’s personal fortune was amassed from his leadership at the private equity firm Bain Capital. In June 2007, The Boston Globe noted that Bain Capital specialized in leveraged buyouts and cited MIT Sloan School of Management professor Howard Anderson. Bain, he said, would do “everything they can” to increase the value of the companies it bought. “You don’t say we’re going to make as much money as possible without going offshore and laying off people.”
The financial clout of corporations has served Romney well, especially when it comes to political fundraising. As Huffington Post reported, “According to disclosure reports filed at the end of July, 61 registered lobbyists and five lobbyist-linked political action committees contributed $137,650 to Romney’s campaign between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2011. The former Massachusetts governor raised more money from lobbyists during this period than all of his competitors combined.”
Then there’s this in the July 20 Washington Post: “The largest corporate sources of money for Romney are mostly finance industry leaders. … The keys to his success appear to be large donors and contributors from the New York area.”
So it’s not surprising that in the Romney camp, the creative accounting techniques perfected by Wall Street are a specialty. Consider, the super PAC Restore Our Future, supposedly independent, but run by former Romney political aides. Restore Our Future raised $12.2 million in the first half of 2012. Under the new, relaxed rules it can raise unlimited funds but must disclose who contributes and cannot legally coordinate with the candidates themselves or the candidates’ official campaign committees. Of Restore Our Future’s 90 wealthy donors, four gave a million dollars apiece. One was John Paulson, described by the website Politico as “a New York hedge fund billionaire who became famous for enriching himself by betting on the collapse of the housing industry.”
The other three allegedly are corporations but none of them conduct any real business. Two, Eli Publishing and something called F8 LLC, each list the same Provo, Utah, address as trusts set up by the families of two executives at the anti-aging product company Nu Skin Enterprises. Nu Skin founders and fellow Mormons Stephen Lund and Blake Roney were big contributors to Romney’s first White House campaign in 2008.
The other shell company, W Spann LLC, was even more mysterious. As first reported by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, it was dissolved only months after it was created, and just two weeks before Restore Our Future reported the company’s donation. After days of media demands and questions, the man behind W Spann finally came forward: Edward Conard, a retired managing director of — surprise — Bain Capital. But he only stepped up after the groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center requested investigations by the Justice Department and the Federal Elections Commission. He made his donation “after consulting prominent legal counsel regarding the transaction,” Conard said, “and based on my understanding that the contribution would comply with applicable laws.”
The donors responsible for the dummy corporations all say they have noting to hide. So why hide it? We need to discover this and other answers before the money machine completely supplants the voting machine, and any last chance to have our voices heard is permanently stilled by cold hard cash.
Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.