Romney stock trades clash with divestment pledge

By Stephen Braun

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 12:46 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — During his presidential campaign in 2007, Republican candidate Mitt Romney promised that a trust overseeing his financial portfolio would shed any investments that conflicted with GOP positions toward Iran, China, stem cell research and other issues. But Romney's family trusts kept some of those stocks and repeatedly bought new investments in similar holdings as recently as 2010, when they were sold in advance of his latest White House campaign, a detailed review of Romney's financial records by The Associated Press shows.

Recently disclosed 2010 tax returns for three family trust funds for Romney, his wife, Ann, and their adult children show scores of trades in such investments, worth more than $3 million when the holdings were all sold in 2010.

A Romney campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said the former Massachusetts governor has no control over the investments made by his blind trust but the trustee has tried to manage the trades "in a manner consistent with Gov. Romney's publicly expressed positions."

The continual trading between 2006 and 2010 raises questions about why the investments continued for three years even after Romney said the trust would sell off any conflicted holdings, during a period when Romney has sought to convince voters of his conservative Republican values. The trades also raise questions about whether any of the transactions were vetted for possible conflicts or purposes of political perception before they were made.

"Financially, these would seem to be completely legitimate investments," said Thomas B. Cooke, a professor of business law at Georgetown University and former president of the National Society of Tax Professionals. "But for someone running for president, there's also a smell test."

Romney's spokeswoman would not respond to questions about the timing or vetting of his investments in his blind trust. She said, however, that the lawyer running the trust occasionally makes adjustments in holdings with Romney's positions in mind.

Romney has kept many of his investments in a trust he describes as blind since he entered the Massachusetts governor's race in 2002. The trust is designed to eliminate conflicts of interest by preventing Romney from knowing about trades made on his behalf and from making specific financial decisions. A Boston attorney who runs the trust oversees Romney's far-flung holdings in stocks, mutual funds and securities.

Romney can set the general direction of his finances, Cooke and other tax experts said. Romney made that clear in August 2007, as he tried to quell a growing furor about his ownership of some stocks that clashed with Republican positions on Iran, China and other issues.

"The trustee of the blind trust has said publicly that he will endeavor to make my investments conform to my positions, and I have confidence that he will do that well," Romney said in 2007. The lawyer heading Romney's trust, R. Bradford Malt, had said earlier in 2007 that he was trying to eliminate conflicts between Romney's holdings and his policy positions.

In some cases, though, it took more than three years for Romney's trust to sell off stocks in companies whose operations appeared to be problematic for him. The AP review of Romney's capital gains financial statements indicate that he lost about $70,000 on the trades.

In 2007, Romney held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares in Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company that engages in limited use of stem cells for research. But it was not until October 2010, on the eve of his second White House run, that Romney's trust sold off the last 27 shares of Novo Nordisk stock — among 90 shares worth $7,700 that Romney's trust sold that year.

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