The Obama campaign is pouncing on a leaked fundraiser video in which Mitt Romney describes touring a factory in China as president of Bain Capital. According to Romney, the company packed workers into crowded dormitories behind barbed wire, while paying them a fraction of American wages.
Left unclear, however, is whether Romney ended up investing in the facility himself. While the video has circulated for weeks, and drawn renewed attention in recent days, the Romney campaign has yet to deny that the candidate bought the factory. It’s likely to get more attention now that more secretly filmed clips of a Romney fundraiser leaked to Mother Jones. The clips of Romney describing the Chinese factory appear to be from the same event in which Romney suggests all Obama supporters receive government handouts.
“You know, that video’s old, you can call Bain and ask them what they did in terms of investing on it,” senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters on Monday. “I don’t have any information on it.”
The Romney campaign told TPM Monday that Gillespie’s “no comment” would be its final word on whether Bain acquired the factory. A spokesman for Bain Capital did not immediately return a message left on his phone, but CNN reported a “source familiar with Bain’s investment history” said Bain did not purchase the factory.
In the video, Romney describes life at the factory as harsh:
When I was back in my private equity days, we went to China to buy a factory there. It employed about 20,000 people. And they were almost all young women between the ages of about 18 and 22 or 23. They were saving for potentially becoming married. And they work in these huge factories, they made various small appliances. And as we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories with little bathrooms at the end of maybe 10 rooms. And the rooms, they had 12 girls per room, three bunk beds on top of each other. You’ve seen, you’ve seen them? And around this factory was a fence, a huge fence with barbed wire and guard towers. And we said gosh, I can’t believe that you, you know, keep these girls in. And they said, no, no, no. This is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to work in this factory that we have to keep them out.
Romney used the story to make the point that Americans shouldn’t take for granted the level of opportunity that comes with being born in the United States: “The Bain partner I was with turned to me and said, you know, 95 percent of life is settled if you are born in America,” he says in the clip.
The Boston Globe suggested that the factory may be part of Global Tech, a Chinese appliances company that Bain invested in in 1998. While the nature of the company’s ownership is unclear, the Obama campaign has suggested Global Tech was the factory Romney was referring to in recent statements accusing the Republican nominee of hypocrisy for pledging to crack down on Chinese trade violations. Essentially, they’re daring Romney to deny his involvement.
“Before Mitt Romney started claiming he’d stand up to China and its unfair trade practices, he was profiting off of them,” Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement Saturday. “Gov. Romney even maintained his investment in a Chinese manufacturing company that relied on outsourcing American jobs after seeing its poor work conditions, which he described as surrounded by barbed wire and packed with 12 women per dormitory room. When our competitors started a global race to the bottom, rather than placing a premium on creating American jobs and lifting the middle class, Mitt Romney dove in head first.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.