Mitt Romney was in Utah over the weekend for a celebration of sorts: it was the 10th anniversary of the Olympic games he helped lead. This is, of course, a story Romney and his presidential campaign are eager to tell, because it reinforces the "turnaround artist" narrative -- the Salt Lake City games were in trouble; Romney came in and applied his business expertise; and the Olympics were saved.
The truth, however, tells a less flattering story, at least as far as the politics is concerned. Indeed, in an unexpected twist, Romney's handling of the Olympics -- thought to be one of his few easy selling points as a candidate -- is now being used against him.
While the former governor was in Utah for his victory lap, Rick Santorum was trying to turn the issue around on his rival. Referring to Romney, Santorum said, "He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic games, in an earmark. Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?"
A closer look at the details suggests Santorum has a point.
...Romney himself has a complicated relationship with federal funds. As the head of the Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney led an aggressive effort to win hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid for the struggling Winter Games. [...][I]n "Turnaround," Romney's 2004 account of his successful effort to save the Winter Olympics after they were hobbled by a bribery scandal and a budget shortfall, he ... writes that when he took over the Games in 1999, he learned that organizers had been assuming the federal government would kick in more to help Salt Lake City -- including for transportation and infrastructure improvements -- than had ever been spent on a U.S. Olympic Games before. But they had done none of the lobbying to secure money they assumed would flow."I would be spending a lot of time in D.C.," he writes.He then goes on to include a sort of guide on how to win federal support in a section of the book he entitles "Being Successful in Washington."
It's true that the Olympics were in trouble when Romney took over, but as Frank Rich recently explained, "The most significant workers he added to the payroll in Salt Lake City were sixteen lobbyists, at a cost of nearly $4 million, to solicit taxpayers' subsidies -- 'more federal cash than any previous U.S. Olympics,' according to The Wall Street Journal. That's hard to square with Romney's current stand that jobs will bloom across the land if government stops giving any handouts (even to tornado victims, he said in the GOP debate) and lets the free market work its magic."
The problem is the picture the facts help paint. Romney would have voters believe he used his expertise as a businessman to get the Olympics back on track. What actually happened, however, was that Romney hired a team of lobbyists -- from five separate D.C. lobbying firms -- to get Congress to give him a lot of money.
Federal bailout in hand, Romney then used tax dollars to rescue the troubled games. This wasn't about corporate know-how or the skills of turnaround artist; this was a straightforward process involving Romney, lobbyists, and a truckload of taxpayer money.
Santorum isn't the only one eager to remind voters of these details; the DNC unveiled this video late last week.