Government Filings Dispute Romney's Time At Bain

Mitt Romney and his campaign have deflected outsourcing charges by explaining that he had left Bain Capital before many of those decisions were made. But filings by the SEC and the state of Massachusetts show that Bain reported Romney as its CEO through 2002. He says he left the position in 1999.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. There are new questions about when exactly Mitt Romney left the company he founded, Bain Capital. Romney has long said he left Bain in 1999 to go save the Salt Lake City Olympics, but government filings first reported on by Mother Jones magazine showed that, at least on paper, Romney remained CEO, chairman and sole owner of Bain for three more years.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In a number of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission dated after 1999, Mitt Romney is listed as the top executive at Bain Capital. Now, why does it matter when he left the company? Take a listen to an excerpt from this Obama campaign Web video about the bankruptcy of GST Steel, a company Bain took over.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They made as much money off it as they could and they closed it down. They filed for bankruptcy without any concern for the families or the communities.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It was like a vampire.

KEITH: The bankruptcy happened in 2001, well after Romney and his campaign say he left Bain Capital. Here's Romney in an interview with conservative blogger Ed Morrissey back in May.

MITT ROMNEY: The problem, of course, is that the steel factory closed down two years after I left Bain Capital. I was no longer there, so that's hardly something which was on my watch.

KEITH: The Obama campaign today seized on media reports about the discrepancy.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: Mitt Romney is the most secretive candidate to run for president since Richard Nixon.

KEITH: That's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on a conference call.

CUTTER: Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.

KEITH: The Romney campaign described those comments as a new low, reckless and unsubstantiated. And, when pressed, the Obama campaign presented no evidence that Romney was actively involved in decision-making or management at Bain from 1999 to 2002, other than the filings. Romney's surrogates, including Barbara Comstock, hit the phones to fight back.

BARBARA COMSTOCK: He was called up very suddenly to head up the Olympics that were floundering and needed somebody to turn them around, which he, of course, did spectacularly. So he took a leave of absence and he never returned to active management when he took that leave.

KEITH: A Bain Capital press release from the summer of 1999 quotes Romney and describes him as being on a part time leave of absence. Comstock, though, says running the Olympics took all of his attention.

COMSTOCK: And I can tell you, that was a 24/7 job. He was out there in Utah working 24/7 on that.

KEITH: Titles like CEO and chairman listed in the SEC filings typically indicate someone leading a company or involved in decision-making, says J. Brown, a corporate securities law professor at the University of Denver, but he says you can't make any assumptions here.

J. ROBERT BROWN: A title could have a lot of substance to it or a title could just be a title.

KEITH: In another document, a financial disclosure filed when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he listed himself as an executive at Bain Capital with wages of at least $100,000 in 2002. A footnote in that filing explains that Romney held no management role in several Bain-related partnerships, but when it came to Bain Capital Proper, there was no such disclaimer.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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