Who Checks the Fact Checkers? We Do.
Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post has finally admitted that he really has no idea about the status of Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital 1999 - 2002.
Reader emails prompted the fact checker to take another look, and what they found does not look so good for Mitt Romney.
We thank our readers for the many e-mails, comments, tweets, phone calls and letters considering this issue.
We have previously laid out the evidence, pro and con, concerning Romney’s management of Bain after 1999. Our position has been that he effectively stopped managing Bain when he left for his Olympics job. Most important, without direct evidence, we have been reluctant to grant carte blanche to the Obama campaign or Romney’s GOP rivals to assert that Romney had a direct role in Bain deals between 1999 and 2002 (‘Romney closed 1,000 stores…’).
However, a case could be made that, with his ownership role shown in SEC documents, he still bore some responsibility. (As far we can tell, Romney has never said that the Bain deals done in that period had problems.)
We strive for the greatest level of accuracy in attack ads. While we cannot definitely prove that Romney did not play a role in Bain deals in 1999, neither can the Obama campaign prove that he did. Our general position has been that the burden of proof rests with the campaign.
But Romney has failed to provide sufficient evidence that he had ‘no role whatsoever’ at Bain. Over the past few days, we have repeatedly asked Bain Capital whether the firm could provide a statement that a review of Bain board meetings had shown that Romney did not attend any such meeting, either in person or by phone. We are still waiting for a response.
[UPDATE: The Boston Globe on July 20 published a lengthy article looking into this period. The reporters did not find evidence Romney was involved in specific deals but reveal a Palm Beach, Fla. meeting that he attended with his partners. The newspaper reported that ‘by remaining CEO and sole shareholder, Romney held on to his leverage in the talks that resulted in his generous 10-year retirement package…Before he left, tasks were doled out to other partners, including work on an investment committee and a compensation committee. He was not a partner in the new private equity funds launched in 2000 and 2001, meaning he had no role in assessing new investments, his partners said, a departure from his having previously had the final say on every deal….But Romney still had a lot of money on the table; much of his personal wealth was tied up in Bain. And he was still technically in charge.’]
Moreover, as we have previously noted:
— a news release was issued by Bain Capital in July 1999 quoting Romney on the departure of Bain partners. The news release described him as being on ‘part-time leave of absence.’
— the 1999-2001 annual reports of Staples and Marriott International, on whose boards Romney served, continued to list him as heading Bain and various Bain funds. The descriptions are based on a questionnaire that the board director must personally provide.
So we are at an impasse. Because of the ambiguity, there is considerable room for interpretation of known facts. Going forward, unless new evidence emerges, on a case-by-case basis we may withhold the awarding of Pinocchios when the claim rests mostly on the question of when Romney stopped managing Bain Capital.