This post has been updated.
The big political story of the day is a front-page article in The Boston Globe presenting evidence that Mitt Romney remained chief executive and chairman of Bain Capital until 2002, three years after Romney claims to have stepped down—a distinction that matters because numerous Bain deals in the 1999-2002 period have come in for criticism. The Globe story was burning up the political world on Twitter this morning. And some journalists saw it as refuting a report by FactCheck.org, cited here at CJR, which found that—while it’s clear Romney retained his ownership stake in Bain after departing to run the Salt Lake City Olympics—there’s no evidence he continued to play an active role.
I asked Brooks Jackson, the director of FactCheck.org, what he made of the Globe story. He replied over email:
We see little new in the Globe piece. So far nobody has shown that Romney was actually managing Bain (even part-time) during his time at the Olympics, or that he was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said.
We would reassess our judgment should somebody come up with evidence that Romney took part in any specific management decision or had any active role (not just a title) at Bain after he left to head the Olympics. But in our considered judgment, nothing in the Globe story directly contradicts Romney’s statements—which he has certified as true under pain of federal prosecution—that he “has not had any active role” with Bain or “been involved in the operations” of Bain since then.
I agree with Jackson that there’s less new in the Globe article than the attention it has drawn suggests. The story leads with numerous SEC filings after Romney’s claimed 1999 departure that list him as the “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.” But the existence of such filings has already been reported—as the Globe acknowledged both in an update to its story and in a statement to Politico’s Dylan Byers, who was also in touch with Jackson today. Indeed, they were at the core of the Obama campaign’s objection to FactCheck.org’s report, to which the factchecking site posted a lengthy reply.
The issue, then, is how to understand those filings, and how to reconcile them with Romney’s subsequent statements, on federal disclosure forms, that since February 1999 he “has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.” Here, the Globe article does add something new: comments from Roberta Karmel, a former SEC commissioner, who says that the earlier filings should be taken at face value, and that if Romney was only a figurehead after 1999—as he and Bain have said—those filings “could be considered a misrepresentation to the investor.”
But this, again, is a version of the argument that journalists like Mother Jones’s David Corn and TPM’s Josh Marshall have previously advanced. And, again, counterarguments have already been made—explicitly in reply to Corn by Fortune’s Dan Primack here, and much earlier, by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, here. (That Kessler post includes what may be a telling detail about how investors saw Romney’s role during this period: when Bain was sued in 2006 over actions taken in 2002, six Bain-controlled entities and three executives were named as defendants—but Romney was not.)
FactCheck.org is in the Primack/Jackson camp, which is why Jackson sees no reason to reassess his conclusions today. For what it’s worth, on the narrow question of whether Romney personally directed decisions by Bain or its companies during the period in question—which is the initial claim that the Obama campaign made, and which FactCheck.org was checking—I’m in that camp, too.
The available evidence still supports this picture: When Romney left to run the Olympics, he intended to continue his work at Bain in a limited role. But the Olympic gig took up more time than he anticipated, and the part-time work at Bain didn’t happen. Still, Romney and Bain expected he’d return to the company once the Olympics were over. He was even compensated in his role as an executive after 1999, as both the Globe article and the Obama campaign note. But his success in Salt Lake City raised his profile and created new opportunities in politics—and when he decided to pursue them, his de facto departure from Bain was formalized.