It was easy to miss, but there was an interesting spat last week between President Obama's campaign and the Annenberg Center's FactCheck.org. The campaign had run an ad holding Mitt Romney responsible for a series of Bain Capital layoffs, which FactCheck.org rejected as unfair -- the layoffs, the website's editors said, occurred after Romney left Bain.
Obama's team stood by the claim, sending a six-page letter (pdf) to the FactCheck.org editors, defending their argument in great detail. FactCheck.org was unmoved and said the campaign's claim was still wrong -- any business decisions Bain made after February 1999, when Romney stopped working at his private equity firm, can't fairly be held against him.
Who was right, the Obama campaign or FactCheck.org? As of this week, the evidence clearly favors the former.
Mother Jones' David Corn has done some excellent reporting of late, uncovering ample evidence that Romney didn't leave Bain until 2002, three years after his ostensible departure date. Josh Marshall moved the ball forward yesterday, as well.
The gist of the disagreement comes down to this: There's no question that numerous public filings and some contemporaneous press references say Romney was still running things at Bain after 1999. But his campaign insists that whatever securities filings may have said, in practice, he was so busy running the 2002 Winter Olympics that he actually had no role at Bain after early 1999. That's possible in theory. But there's no evidence for it besides self-interested claims by Romney. And there's plenty of documentary evidence to the contrary. After all, what you tell the SEC is really supposed to be true.But here's the thing. I've found yet more instances where Romney made declarations to the SEC that he was still involved in running Bain after February 1999. To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet noted these.
What Josh highlighted were two SEC filings from July 2000 and February 2001 in which Romney listed his "principal occupation" as "Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc." At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, one cannot be gone from Bain in February 1999 and also be the managing director of Bain in February 2001.
Now, you might be thinking, "Does this really matter? What difference does it make exactly when Romney left Bain?" It matters quite a bit, actually.
For one thing, call me old fashioned, but Romney is supposed to tell the truth, both to the public and to the Securities and Exchange Commission. At this point, Romney's claims don't add up, and it's not unreasonable to ask for an explanation.
On a related note, it also matters whether or not Romney told the truth on his official financial disclosure forms.
And then, of course, there's the whole point of why Romney wants people to believe he left Bain earlier than the apparent date. The Republican candidate probably doesn't want to be on the hook for a series of controversial Bain investments -- again, see Corn's reporting -- and layoffs, which would help explain his competing explanations.
FactCheck.org's editors appear to have accepted Romney's claims at face value, but the documentary evidence now appears to point in the opposite direction. Here's hoping they, and others in media, give this another look.