President Obama has made Mitt Romney's whereabouts between 1999 and 2002 one of the central issues of his political campaign. Romney claims to have left his position at Bain Capital in 1999, but documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission list Romney as a principal and a shareholder at Bain until three years later. The president has claimed that Romney either lied to the SEC, which would constitute a felony, or that he really was still working for Bain during those critical three years.
Well, the president can call off the bloodhounds. We know where Mitt Romney was.
Anyone in Salt Lake City between 1999 and 2002 can attest to the fact that Romney had rather a full plate at the time. Those who remember the mess of corruption that Romney was called in to clean up are under no illusions that he was still moonlighting as a venture capitalist on the other side of the country. Even many who disagree with Romney's partisan politics recognize that the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were transformed from an international scandal to a triumph of monumental proportions, and Mitt Romney's leadership and managerial expertise deserve a great deal of credit for that. Therefore, it's very hard to acknowledge that and still pretend that Romney was missing in action the entire time.
The accusation that Romney committed a felony is far more serious, but it is no less silly than the idea that he was actively running Bain and not the Olympics. Cooler heads have examined the issue and determined that retaining a title and remaining a shareholder in an organization is entirely appropriate, even when you step away from day-to-day operations. If there were any substance to the incendiary claim that Romney was breaking the law, the SEC would swoop in immediately and begin a full-scale investigation. But there isn't, so they haven't.
The president undoubtedly knows all this, which raises the question of why he's pursuing this line of attack. It certainly plays into the perception that Romney's wealth somehow disqualifies him, but it also seems to be a cynical attempt to tarnish an area of genuine accomplishment in Romney's record. In reviewing Romney's Olympic record, prominent Republicans and Democrats have recognized that Romney did good, and the president isn't willing to let his opponent's good deeds go unpunished.
That makes the president's attack on Romney just another cynical exercise in partisan politics. Although such cynicism seems to be standard operating procedure every four years, it's still disappointing to see, even when it's not surprising.
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