Mitt Romney has said he doesn't recall attending Bain board meetings after he took a leave of absence on February 11, 1999, to run the 2002 Winter Olympics, but on Friday, the Boston Globe's Beth Healy and Michael Kranish report that he attended a Palm Beach meeting to celebrate the firms 15th anniversary after he'd already left for Salt Lake. "I was in Salt Lake City for three straight years," Romney told CBS News one week ago. "I don't recall even coming back once to go to a Bain or management meeting." Maybe he didn't return to Massachusetts for Bain events, but he did go to Florida, according to the Globe, where "it became clearer that Romney was unlikely to return but would retain his title as chief executive officer and sole shareholder."
Before Romney was running for president, it was in his interest for multiple reasons to make his quit date at Bain fuzzy. For one thing, Democrats challenged his Massachusetts residency as he got ready to run for governor in 2002. In hearings about his residency, Romney testified he came back five or six times a year for board meetings of companies Bain invested in, though he didn't name Bain itself. But the Globe reports he also hung in there to have better leverage for negotiating his retirement deal with Bain:
"The elephant in the room was not whether Mitt was involved in investment decisions but Mitt's retention of control of the firm and therefore his ability to extract a huge economic benefit by delaying his giving up of that control," said one former associate, who, like some other Romney associates, spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company.
While Romney was negotiating his retirement deal, his ties with Bain helped him rescue the Olympics. His Bain contacts were crucial in bringing back sponsors who were turned off by the games' bribery scandal, as the Boston Phoenix reported. Romney explains in his 2004 book Turnaround that he offered Staples CEO Thomas Stemberg a reward if his company would sponsor the Olympics. Romney's Olympics staff "would get to work lobbying SLOC board members and other corporate contacts to switch their office-supply contracts to Staples." Romney was on the Staples board at the time. Before the lobbying began, Office Depot won the office supply contract. Other companies, like Gateway and Jon M. Huntsman's international holding company, made deals with Bain after becoming Olympics sponsors. Sealy became a sponsor, too. It was owned by Bain.
The Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler, who has been very skeptical of claims that Romney had anything to do with Bain after 1999, is taking a leave of absence from checking those claims related to his departure date. "Going forward, unless new evidence emerges, on a case-by-case basis we may withhold the awarding of Pinocchios when the claim rests mostly on the question of when Romney stopped managing Bain Capital," he writes.
- SEC filings listing Romney as CEO through 2002.
- Massachusetts disclosure forms showing Romney got at least $100,000 in income as a Bain as a "former executive" in 2001 and an "executive" in 2002. They show he owned 100 percent of the company through 2002.
- The Palm Beach meeting after the retirement.
- His return to Massachusetts for multiple board meetings for Staples, which Bain invested in.
- A July 1999 Bain press release that said "Bain Capital CEO W. Mitt Romney, currently on a part-time leave of absence."