When you are president or CEO of an organization are you responsible for everything that goes on or can you delegate responsibility for the firm’s operations and claim plausible deniability for running the place?
That’s at the crux of whether presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney had nothing to do with investment company Bain Capital after 1999, when he left to oversee the Olympics in Salt Lake City, or was still responsible for the firm's operations through 2002.
The debate was renewed this week when Gawker announced it had new documents that suggest Romney had operational input. Last month, the Huffington Post reported on documents that showed that Romney was still listed as chief executive and sole owner of Bain and earning investment income.
For most folks, if you receive a check from a company for a product or service rendered, that’s a salary. Financial experts, however, argue that there is a difference between having legal or financial ties to a company and having input in the firm’s operations.
Romney took a leave of absence from Bain in February 1999 to lead an Olympic organizing committee preparing for the games in Salt Lake City. He did not officially relinquish his title or ownership until 2002, after the Games had ended.
One campaign official had the temerity to suggest that Romney “retired retroactively” from Bain in 2002, so his name being on all those documents between his departure in 1999 and 2002 doesn’t really count.
While he signed off on certain documents, the day-to-day investment and managerial decisions were made by others, according to a review of documents by Fortune magazine.
This just muddies the waters for the average person who doesn’t deal with the fine lines of ownership and investment and compensation packages.
The conclusions drawn from this discussion will lead voters to decide whether Romney followed the spirit, if not the letter, of the law on his relationship with Bain or if he has been caught in a lie.
As with most things, those who have already decided how they will vote will take the line that supports their decision.
For the truly undecided, though, the controversy makes it even more difficult to determine whether Romney could really pull the U.S. out of its financial muck and mire with creative solutions or if he hasn’t the slightest idea how he will help people who are not rich like him.
Some folks don’t believe it is possible that someone could be listed as the owner and chief officer of an organization on paper, yet not be responsible for the day-to-day operations. It is a line of thinking the Obama administration hopes to capitalize on.
And it just might work, because until the heat got a little too intense, Romney touted his experience with Bain as illustrative of how good a job he did managing other people’s money and even told CNBC, “That’s the kind of record which I’m pretty proud of.”
One of his chief campaign advisers, John Sununu, told reporters in May, “I think the Bain record as a whole is fair game, and what you have to do is do an honest evaluation.”
But now Romney would prefer that the campaigns just call the whole thing off.
In an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC, Romney suggested the campaigns avoid “business or family or taxes or things of that nature”:
“[O]ur campaign would be — helped immensely if we had an agreement between both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that attacks based upon — business or family or taxes or things of that nature. [...]
“[W]e only talk about issues. And we can talk about the differences between our positions and our opponent’s position.” Romney said.
So Romney promises to make the campaign solely about issues – or more likely the president’s record specifically – as long as the discussion doesn’t address the areas in which he is most vulnerable.
No matter which way the former owner of Bain Capital turns, he appears to be trying to have it both ways. He can take a leave from a job, not contribute to the bottom line and still capitalize from it and then claim he really had no substantial ties to the company that gave him the money.
That isn’t how most Americans earn their living and it strains credulity for many to see it Romney’s way.