Not long ago, Jay Rosen memorably dubbed Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency a “post truth” campaign. Within 48 hours, we may find out whether a “post truth” candidate can be elected president.
If there is one constant to this campaign, it’s that Romney has startled many observers by operating from the basic premise that there is literally no set of boundaries he needs to follow when it comes to the veracity of his assertions, the transparency he provides about his fundraising and finances, and the specificity of his plans for the country. On the dishonesty front, this has grown more pronounced in recent days, with Romney’s embrace of the Jeep-to-China lie as a closing argument in Ohio and his absurd attacks on Obama for urging people to vote.
But the key to this is how elemental it has long been to his campaign. Romney’s entire bid for the presidency rests on a foundation of evasions and lies. David Corn explains:
The Republican presidential candidate built much of his campaign on basic untruths about the president. Romney blasted Obama for breaking a “promise” to keep unemployment below 8 percent. He claimed the president was “apologizing for America abroad.” He accused Obama of adding “nearly as much debt as all the previous presidents combined” and of cutting $500 million from Medicare. None of this was true. (See here, here, here, and here.)
All of these apocryphal statements have been essential parts of Romney’s fundamental case against Obama: He’s failed to revive the economy and he’s placed the nation at risk. Rather than stick to a discourse premised on actual differences (he believes in government investments and would raise taxes on the wealthy to fund them; I want to shrink government and cut taxes) — and bend the truth within acceptable boundaries to bolster the argument — Romney has repeatedly relied on elemental falsehoods.
But this goes well beyond Romney’s claims about Obama. It also concerns what he would do as president. Romney’s own campaign has proven unable to back up the promises in his 12 million jobs plan, even though it is the centerpiece of his governing agenda and his response to the most pressing problem facing the nation. And that’s only the beginning. Jonathan Cohn:
Here we are, a day left in the campaign, and Romney still hasn’t told us how he’d offset the cost of his massive tax cut — except to say he’d do it through deductions without raising taxes on the middle class, an approach that independent analysts have said is mathematically impossible. Romney still hasn’t provided details on his “five-point plan” to boost the economy, even though his central claim as a candidate is that he’d do more to improve growth. Romney still hasn’t told us which programs he’d cut in order to cap non-defense federal spending at 16 percent, even though independent analysts have suggested doing so would require draconian cuts few Americans would find acceptable. Even in the spotlight of a nationally televised debate, when confronted with these questions, Romney wouldn’t answer.
And let’s throw Romney’s “47 percent” comments into the mix. Within 48 hours, we may find out whether it’s possible to get elected president after advancing a set of policy proposals that amount to a sham; after openly refusing to share basic governing intentions until after the election; after shifting positions relentlessly on virtually every issue the campaign has touched upon, including the one (health care) that once was seen as central to his case for national office; after refusing to share the most basic info about his own massive fortune and about the mega-bundlers that are fueling his enormous campaign expenditures; and after writing off nearly half the nation as freeloaders.
By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, November 5, 2012
The so-called “mainstream media” (aka The New York Times) is constantly being assailed by Republicans and the right for their supposedly liberal slant. Yet another convenient right-wing lie.
Take, for example, Saturday’s above-the-fold NY Times story, entitled (in the print edition that arrived at my home this morning): “Romney Recalled as Leader Who Savors Details.”
It’s mainly a puff piece, aglow with Romney’s supposed managerial prowess. Coming just a bit more than three weeks before Election Day, it attempts to confirm Romney’s central selling point – that he can run the government better than Obama.
Nowhere does the Times bother to mention that Romney’s campaign has been devoid of any detail at all — details about his economic plan, his budget plan, his plan for what to replace Obamacare with, his plan to replace Dodd-Frank, or even details about the taxes he’s paid.
When he was governor of Massachusetts, the citizens of the Commonwealth had no idea what he was doing (I can attest because I was there, and as much in the dark as most people). He kept the details of his governing to himself and his staff. And he spent most of his last two years in office laying the groundwork for his run for the presidency.
Romney has always savored details when it helps him make money. But when it comes to running or holding office he’s been a standout for avoiding all details and keeping the public in the dark.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, October 20, 2012
I’ve written before about the Romney campaign’s odd insistence on using Bill Clinton as a de facto spokesperson. Every so often, Team Romney highlights a comment by Clinton as a critique of President Obama, as if Clinton wasn’t an avowed and enthusiastic supporter of the president. The rationale, I suppose, is to be able to claim bipartisan discontent with Obama. The problem is that this does nothing more but boost Clinton’s credibility by turning him into a nonpartisan figure of repute. And as we saw during the Democratic National Convention, he can use this “referee” status to effectively hammer Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
Indeed, it was after Clinton’s devastating speech that I expected Republicans to leave the former president out of the election. Turns out, they couldn’t resist: Today, Team Romney is distributing a clip of Clinton in Ohio, where he said that the economy has not been “fixed” under President Obama.
In their eagerness to use Clinton against Obama, it’s obvious that the Romney campaign failed to listen to what came after that statement.
Here’s the transcript:
“This guy ran Bain Capital and is a business guy, and he’s hiding his budget? That ought to tell you something. Well, he’s hiding his taxes, too, but he’s hiding his taxes in the years when he earned ordinary income. He’s given us two years when he was just running for president. And, he’s hiding whether he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter act. He’s hiding everything. He doesn’t want you to think about him. He wants you to think, ‘Oh this economy is terrible. I’m a jobs guy.’ And as President Obama said in the debate, if I brought you a deal to Bain Capital and I said, fund my new business, I’ll give you the budget sometime in the future, just trust me on that, you wouldn’t give me one red cent, and we should not give him one vote on that.”
This is a potent message—it’s a variation on the “sketchy deal” language adopted by Obama—and by giving credibility to Clinton, Romney is making it stronger.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012
“Standing Up To China, Romney Style”: MItt Invested In Chinese Company Fined Thousands For Selling Fake College Tests
In the latest Romney campaign reboot, the candidate has made a central theme of President Obama’s alleged softness on China. “Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office,” the narrator of a Romney ad released last week intones. “It doesn’t have to be this way if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology.”
The 30-second ad, titled “Stand up to China,” says Obama failed on no fewer than seven occasions to stop China’s violations of intellectual-property laws. FactCheck.org notes that the ad mangles the facts, but beyond that, Romney’s whole focus on China carries perils, not least because he has invested in and profited off of Chinese companies known for violating American businesses’ intellectual property.
Romney’s recently released tax returns show that he invested in the parent company of Youku, a sort of Chinese YouTube that was a haven for pirated movies and TV shows, though the company is now apparently cleaning up its act.
Another notable Romney investment, which has so far gone unnoticed, was in a Chinese private education company that was cited repeatedly in the late 1990s for selling bootleg American graduate school entrance exams and was forced by a Chinese court to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in a landmark copyright case.
According to his 2011 personal financial disclosure form, Romney’s blind trust invested between $15,001 and $50,000 in New Oriental Education & Technology Group, the largest provider of private educational services in China, though his recent tax returns show he sold at least some of that position. Among other services, New Oriental helps Chinese students prepare for the tests needed to gain admission to American universities, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the GRE or the GMAT, the business school entrance exam. The company has said that as many as seven in 10 mainland-Chinese students who attended foreign universities have gone through one of the schools’ test-preparation classes.
A 2001 expose in the the Chronicle Of Higher Education reported that New Oriental, “like other Chinese test-preparation schools, has been pirating and selling Educational Testing Service publications — thus compromising their integrity and costing the testing service money by violating its copyrights.” Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the private nonprofit giant responsible for the TOEFL, the GRE and other tests.
ETS began to get suspicious of New Oriental in late 2000 when they saw “a surprising increase in Chinese student test scores,” University Wire reported at the time. In response, ETS sent a letter to American universities warning them to give extra scrutiny to Chinese students. In November of that year, Chinese authorities raided the school where they “seized thousands of illegal copies of the tests that were being sold logo and all in the bookstore of the New Oriental School,” as the AP reported at the time. The tests sold in the bookstore included “live questions” being used on current tests, leading ETS to believe that New Oriental had paid people to take the tests, memorize the questions, and later reproduce them. The school had already been caught hawking bootleg tests in 1996 and 1997, and despite apologies and promises to stop each time, it apparently did not.
In 2001, ETS and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT, sued New Oriental in Chinese court. In 2002, the school’s founder and president, who had developed a high profile as China’s leading expert on gaining admission to foreign universities, abruptly resigned. The Straits Times reported the resignation was due to the ETS piracy scandal, but the school denied this.
In 2003, a court in Beijing ruled in ETS and GMAC’s favor and forced New Oriental to pay about $1.2 million in fines, along with over $100,000 in legal fees, and required the school to turn over all illegal copies of ETS and GMAC materials, and publish an apology. New Oriental appealed, and while the decision was upheld, the fine was reduced to $774,000 in 2004.
The ruling became a landmark case in Chinese intellectual property law, as it was the first case argued after China joined the World Trade Organization and a rare win for a plaintiff. “This ruling should give international companies more confidence about operating in China and having their significant intellectual property rights recognized and enforced by the Chinese courts,” the president of GMAC said in a statement. The company has since changed its ways; in 2007, New Oriental and ETS made up when they entered into a licensing agreement.
Since September 2006, when New Oriental began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EDU, the price has skyrocketed from just over $5 to $17.44 a share today.
It’s not clear from Romney’s personal financial disclosure forms when his trust purchased the position in New Oriental, and the Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment. New Oriental did not respond to a request either, but has told Businessweek that it doesn’t comment on past litigation. As the campaign has often said of Romney’s investments, his trust, like that of most other politicians, is “blind,” meaning he has no control over how the money is invested and cannot see where his money is kept. While this is true, it still puts Romney in an awkward position to be making money off a company that has a poor record on intellectual property at the same time as he criticizes his opponent for being weak on intellectual property violators.
And while Romney now says that it’s not fair to criticize investments in his blind trust, he did just that in 1994 when running against the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “The blind trust is an age-old ruse,” Romney said then. “You can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.”
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 1, 2012
With the documents Mitt Romney released recently, we know a bit more about his taxes.
We know, for instance, that Romney paid a rate of 14.1 percent on $13.7 million in income on his 2011 tax return, which he achieved by purposely overpaying. Though he was entitled to deduct $4 million in charitable contributions, Romney deducted only $2.25 million to keep his tax rate above 13 percent.
(Romney, it has been pointed out, could file an amended return to claim the full deduction after the election. We’ve contacted the Romney campaign, and Michele Davis, a spokeswoman, assured us he would not do so.)
We know, according to a letter from his accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers, that Romney has paid state and federal income taxes each year since at least 1990, which would seem to disprove Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim in July that Romney had not paid any taxes for a decade.
And we know that Romney’s tax rate since 1990 never dipped below 13.66 percent, according to his accountants. Romney paid an average effective tax rate between 1990 and 2009 of 20.2 percent.
But there’s still a lot we don’t know. “I think most of the major questions we had before [last Friday] are still out there,” said Brian Galle, a tax law professor at Boston College. Here are a few:
How much did Romney make before 2010?
While Romney has disclosed his average effective tax rate for the last two decades, he hasn’t said how much he earned in those years or how much — the dollar amount — he paid in taxes.
That’s an important distinction, said Daniel Shaviro, a tax law professor at New York University. Various tax-planning strategies may have enabled Romney to reduce his adjusted gross income in some years.
In 2008, for instance, investors everywhere lost money when the stock market tanked. Romney may have carried those losses forward, Shaviro said, and used them to reduce his adjusted gross income in 2009. While we know Romney paid at least 13.66 percent of the income he recorded on his taxes in a given year, we don’t know what percentage he paid of the money actually took home that year.
Why is Romney’s IRA worth so much?
Much of Romney’s wealth sits in his IRA, which is worth as much as $101.6 million. It’s a remarkable number, in part because Romney would have been able to contribute a maximum of $30,000 a year to his IRA while he was at Bain, from 1984 to 1999.
Galle, the Boston College tax law professor, said the most likely explanation for the outsized IRA is that Romney put in shares in Bain investments that swelled in value. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bain allowed employees to buy a special class of shares in the firm’s investments. The shares didn’t cost very much, but they could be extremely lucrative. In one deal, the Journal reported, “some Bain employees saw a 583-fold increase” in the value of their shares — an astronomical return. Because the shares were in IRAs, the profits could be plowed into new Bain deals without subtracting taxes.
Romney also may have beefed up his IRA by contributing “carried interest” — a share of the profits in funds managed by Bain. As Reuters reported earlier this year, any potential carried interest would “not be disclosed in his personal financial summary or on a federal income tax return.” In other words, even if Romney released all his tax returns, we still might not know exactly how he accumulated his huge IRA.
What about Romney’s investments offshore?
We know many of Romney’s IRA investments are based in foreign countries but it’s hard to know how much. He valued one account in the Cayman Islands at anywhere between $5 million and $25 million.
One thing we do know is that Romney pays a far lower tax rate overseas than he does here. According to Quartz, Romney paid only 2.4 percent in foreign taxes in 2011 on the $3.5 million he earned abroad.
We also know where Romney’s current overseas investments are held —Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg — and many of the firms he has invested in, including a state-owned Chinese oil company and a Chinese bank that Romney’s family trusts sold their stake in last year. But we don’t have a lot of other important documentation, including forms would show whether Romney had, as the New York Times has reported, “over the years declared all of his foreign income to the IRS in a timely manner.”
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Romney’s offshore IRA investments likely helped him avoid a little-known tax called the unrelated business income tax. The tax, “meant to discourage tax-exempt entities such as an IRA or college endowment fund from unfairly competing with for-profit, taxpaying entities by operating a business without paying taxes on it,” could have hit Romney at up to 35 percent.
The Romney campaign seems unlikely to release any more information about his finances, but that hasn’t kept reporters from digging it up. Bloomberg, for instance, analyzed securities filings to report last Thursday that Romney has set up a type of trust known as an “I Dig It” trust — a legal way for Romney to avoid estate and gift taxes and pass some of his fortune onto future generations.
By: Theodoric Meyer, Propublica, October 1, 2012