4 Pinocchios for Obama’s newest anti-Romney ad
“Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator. But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As governor, he did the same thing: Outsourcing state jobs to India.”
— Voiceover of new Barack Obama campaign ad
The Obama campaign apparently loves to ding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with the charge of “outsourcing.” On several occasions, we have faulted the campaign for its claims, apparently to little avail.
Now, all of the claims have been combined in one 30-second ad, with the added incendiary charge that Romney was a “corporate raider.” Let’s look anew at this material.
The phrase “corporate raider” has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here’s the definition on Investopedia:
“An investor who buys a large number of shares in a corporation whose assets appear to be undervalued. The large share purchase would give the corporate raider significant voting rights, which could then be used to push changes in the company’s leadership and management. This would increase share value and thus generate a massive return for the raider.”
In other words, this is generally an adversarial stance, in which an investor sees an undervalued asset and forces management to spin off assets, take the company private or break it up.
In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered renowned corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and his ilk. We also have closely studied Bain Capital and can find no examples that come close to this situation; its deals were done in close association with management. Indeed, Bain generally held onto its investments for four or five years, in contrast to the quick bust-em-ups of real corporate raiders. So calling Romney a “corporate raider” is a real stretch.
So how does the Obama campaign justify this phrase? It cites a single Reuters story from last August, about a campaign stop in New Hampshire, written by a stringer. Buried in the article is a reference to Romney as a “former corporate raider.”
“Reuters typically refers to Romney as a ‘former private equity executive’ or something along those lines,” said Ros Krasny, the Boston bureau chief. “Of the hundreds of times we have referenced Romney over the past year or more, honestly, that example from [the stringer] must have just slipped through the net — 10 months ago.”
A better source for Romney’s behavior as an investor might be someone who actually worked on Wall Street, such as former Obama auto czar Steven Rattner. “Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path,” Rattner wrote in Politico this year.
Regarding the outsourcing claims, we have frowned on these before. The Obama campaign rests its case on three examples of Bain-controlled companies sending jobs overseas. But only one of the examples — involving Holson Burns Group — took place when Romney was actively managing Bain Capital.
Regarding the other claims, concerning Canadian electronics maker SMTC Manufacturing and customer service firm Modus Media, the Obama campaign tries to take advantage of a gray area in which Romney had stepped down from Bain — to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics — but had not sold his shares in the firm. We had previously given the Obama campaign Three Pinocchios for such tactics.
The Modus Media case is also not an example of shipping jobs overseas. The company closed one plant in California and transferred the jobs to North Carolina, Washington and Utah. At the same time, it opened an unrelated plant in Mexico. The Obama campaign once trumpeted the fact that we had dinged a conservative Super PAC for making the same leap in logic.
The claim that Romney outsourced jobs as governor is equally overblown.
This concerns Romney’s veto of a bill that would have prohibited Massachusetts from contracting with companies that outsourced the state’s work to other countries. Lawmakers were especially concerned about a $160,000-a-month contract with Citigroup to operate a system of electronic food-stamp cards that included a customer phone service center in India.
Both the liberal editorial page of the Boston Globe and conservative editorial page of the Boston Herald urged Romney to veto the amendment, saying it would cost the state money. Romney agreed, saying the measure did not protect state jobs — the call center might have moved from India to another state — but “had the potential of costing our citizens a lot more money.” The Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature did not override his veto, even though it overturned 117 others, suggesting that there was little real support for the measure.
When the food-stamp contract expired, the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance insisted that those jobs be returned to the United States. But they ended up in a call center based in Utah — just as Romney had predicted.
As we mentioned, we recounted this ancient Massachusetts history before, giving the campaign Two Pinocchios. So we were very surprised that the Obama campaign cited that critical Fact Checker column as a source for the ad in its back-up materials.
Upon hearing this ad was under consideration for a tough rating, the Obama campaign supplied reams of additional SEC documents regarding Romney’s ownership in Bain after he left for the Olympics, most of which we had examined previously when we first looked at this question. The campaign also supplied SEC documents showing that two of these companies, Modus and SMTC, as well as one called Stream International (a predecessor of Modus), earned money in part by helping other companies subcontract work overseas. Some of this business predated Romney’s departure from Bain, but thus far it seems a slim case for this particular ad.
“Romney can’t run from his record. At Bain and in Massachusetts, he had the chance to keep jobs in America and sent them overseas instead,” said Kara Carscaden, deputy press secretary for the Obama campaign. “Even while he was at the Olympics, Romney owned and profited from Bain, continues to profit from it today and cannot ignore what Bain did during that time. Whether it’s outsourcing public jobs to India or shipping private ones to Mexico and China, Romney’s record is clear.”
The Pinocchio Test
The Obama campaign fails to make its case. On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue, from the use of “corporate raider” to its examples of alleged outsourcing. Simply repeating the same debunked claims won’t make them any more correct.
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