Bain of His Existence: Romney's Hands-Off Corporate Presidency

Romney's real issue here is how to explain to normal people how you can be president of something but not in charge of it.


Boy, are Democrats jumping all over the Boston Globe story showing that documents filed with the Security and Exchange Commission described Mitt Romney as "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president" of Bain Capital for three years after he said he left the company to run the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Romney camp's response this morning, by way of spokesperson Andrea Saul: "The article is not accurate. As Bain Capital has said, as Governor Romney has said, and as has been confirmed by independent fact checkers multiple times, Governor Romney left Bain Capital in February of 1999 to run the Olympics and had no input on investments or management of companies after that point."

Elspeth Reeve has a great rundown at The Atlantic Wire on why Romney's quit date matters, citing campaign controversies over outsourcing and "corporate raiding," as well as potential legal issues.

But the bigger issue is that it goes against every single thing normal people know about the workplace for both the Globe and Saul stories to be accurate at the same time. As reported earlier this year when it explored this question, which has come up before:

We have never disputed that Romney remained the owner of Bain while he was running the Olympics committee. The issue always has been, who was running Bain? Nothing in the SEC documents contradicts what Romney has certified as true.

The idea that Romney -- who is running on the strength of his record as a manager to replace Obama -- could keep titles at, earn from, and own a major company for years while at the same time doing nothing to run or manage it, is not something that will be easily absorbed by your average worker. That is not how most workplaces run (those no-show jobs on The Sopranos excepted). But at the very highest levels of American business, things work differently, apparently.

Explaining the complexities of this business arrangement to the American people will be as complicated for Romney as explaining away the overseas accounts he legally opened. It's not the legality of the strategies that's at issue so much as how foreign they will seem to most Americans -- as hard to comprehend as examples of how the world really works as the idea that there's an invisible force that gives all matter mass.

Update 12:34 p.m.:Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler also has a good round up on the issue here.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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