Mitt Romney appears to have succeeded in shifting the conversation from his own tenure at Bain Capital to President Obama’s view of small businesses. But fact-checkers haven’t stopped probing when exactly Romney cut ties with Bain — and they continue to find evidence that the departure Romney claims took place in 1999 wasn’t clear-cut.
The Associated Press offered new evidence Wednesday contradicting Romney’s claim that he had “no role whatsoever” at Bain once he left to run the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. TPM, the Boston Globe and others earlier produced SEC filings showing that Romney listed his “principal occupation” as “Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc.” in 2000 and 2001.
Further review of SEC and Bain documents by the AP, and interviews with Bain associates and experts revealed more interactions and raised new questions about whether a clean break from the company was even possible.
According to several former Romney associates, the Republican presidential contender made several trips back to Boston while running the Olympics to meet with his former partners. The meetings were mostly to discuss the terms of Romney’s departure from the firm, sources told the AP.
One former senior Bain partner said that once Romney had accepted the Olympics position, he would “make suggestions but not decisions.” The former partner added that Romney’s extensive partnership stakes required him to respond to - and at times approve - a succession of ownership documents stemming from the company’s continuing investment deals.
Also at issue are both SEC and Bain documents between 1999 and 2001. While the importance of the SEC filings have been mulled in recent weeks, the AP also uncovered Romney’s personal signature “at least 10 times on large stock transactions or ownership statements tied to Bain investment deals at the time,” including forms approving the sales of large stakes in one Bain-owned company, DDi Corp., which ultimately went bankrupt.
Without more documentation from either Romney or Bain, it might be impossible to completely suss out what level of involvement Romney had, or even what role he was legally obligated to play. One private equity expert, for example, told the AP that Romney was legally required to play an active role in funds and managing partnership entities based in Delaware, of which there were several, as required by Delaware state law. Another expert disagreed, saying Delaware law was more flexible on the issue.
On Friday, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler walked back his defense of Romney’s position that he played no role at Bain after his 1999 departure. “Our position has been that he effectively stopped managing Bain when he left for his Olympics job,” Kessler wrote. “However, a case could be made that, with his ownership role shown in SEC documents, he still bore some responsibility.”
Part of Kessler’s change of heart comes from the fact that getting information from both Bain and the Romney campaign has been like pulling teeth. Going forward, Kessler wrote that he may simply withhold judgment on the question because there is simply not enough evidence to confirm either side.
But the group FactCheck.org, which holds that there is no evidence that Romney took an active role in Bain after 1999, was unswayed by the AP’s new report.
“We would reassess our judgment should somebody come up with evidence that Romney took part in specific management decisions or had any active role (not just a title) at Bain after he left to head the Olympics,” FactCheck.org Director Brooks Jackson wrote July 12. “We’re still looking for it,” Jackson told TPM Wednesday.
Jackson argued that all the AP story showed was that Romney still had ownership, retained corporate titles and was negotiating a severance package — all of which was already known. “None of this shows he actually did what the Obama camp claims he did,” Jackson said, referring to ads that say Romney shipped jobs overseas. “Where is the evidence that Romney had any part in managing these companies that Bain acquired or invested in after 1999? There isn’t any. There is none.”
As for whether Romney is ultimately responsible for decisions made while he was still head of Bain, Brooks says that’s not his business.
“Look, if someone wants to argue that Romney had moral responsibility for decisions someone else made while he retained corporate titles, fine. We’ll leave judgments about moral responsibility to others.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.