There's something weird about Bain Capital. It seems that the company was going along doing what ordinary private-equity firms do—buying and selling companies, making lots of money—until about 1999 or so, when things took a sinister turn. At that point, terrible things began to happen. The firms they backed went into bankruptcy, costing thousands of people their jobs, while Bain still walked away with millions in management fees. They invested in companies that profited from outsourcing and offshoring. Who knows, they may have been producing magical hair-thickening elixirs made from the tears of orphans. Every time one of these new revelations comes out, it seems to concern the period after 1999. But fortunately for Mitt Romney, he has an explanation: When all these bad things happened, I was no longer part of the firm. I left in 1999, when I took the job leading the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Yet today, the Boston Globe comes out with an investigation that seems to reveal that Romney was still in charge after he left for Salt Lake:
Government documents filed by Mitt Romney and Bain Capital say Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time.
Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm's "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president."
Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney's state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain "executive" in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.
It doesn't seem too hard to believe that while Romney was in Salt Lake, he also continued to be involved in the major decisions at Bain—even if he wasn't available to pitch for the company softball team. The problem now is that he's spent a lot of time denying that he had anything at all to do with the firm after February 1999. He and Bain say he "retired" from Bain at that point, which is directly contradicted by the SEC filings. I'm guessing the truth is somewhere south of his denials—he may not have been "running" the firm, but he was still involved at some level. But if he were to admit that, then he'd have to answer specific questions about his knowledge of the steel mill that went bankrupt, the outsourcing companies, and so on. And there is nothing in the world Mitt Romney wants to do less than have to answer specific questions about Bain and what he did there.
In a way, this all reminds me of some of what we learned about Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. One of the details that came out was that he was adamant that he and Monica did not have intercourse during their affair, apparently because that meant that he could convince himself that he wasn't really cheating on his wife and say with sincerity that he "did not have sexual relations" with her when he eventually got caught. All of this wrangling over when exactly Romney "left" Bain Capital has some of the same flavor.